Archive for December, 2012

The Most Futuristic Predictions That Came True in 2012

Posted in SCIENCE, GEOLOGY,HEALTH, INVIRONMENT, TECHNOLOGY,ANTHROPOLOGY, ARCHAEOLOGY, with tags on December 30, 2012 by 2eyeswatching

Post 1557

The Most Futuristic Predictions That Came True in 2012

 The Most Futuristic Predictions That Came True in 2012

Yesterday we told you about the biggest scientific breakthroughs of 2012. But now we turn our attention to those developments that make us realize just how futuristic things are quickly becoming.

And the past year provided no shortage of futureshock. We watched a cyborg compete at the Olympic Games, and marveled at the news that NASA was actually working on a faster-than-light warp drive. It was also a year that featured the planet’s first superstorm, the development of an artificial retina — and primates who had their intelligence enhanced with a chip. Here are 16 predictions that came true in 2012.

1. A Cyborg Competes Against Able-Bodied Athletes at the Olympics

 

For the first time ever in Olympic history, a double-amputee raced alongside able-bodied athletes. Nicknamed “Blade Runner,” South African sprinter Oscar Pistorius’s remarkable achievement raised as much enthusiasm as it did concern — some observers felt that hisadvanced prosthetic “Cheetahs” gave him an unfair advantage over the other athletes. But while Pistorius failed to medal, his remarkable achievement signified the dawn of the cyborg age. 

2. NASA Starts to Work on a Faster-Than-Light Warp Drive

 

Speaking at the 100 Year Starship 2012 Public Symposiumearlier this year, physicist Harold White stunned the aeronautics world when he announced that he and his team at NASA had begun work on the development of a faster-than-light warp drive. His proposed design, an ingenious re-imagining of an Alcubierre Drive, may eventually result in an engine that can transport a spacecraft to the nearest star in a matter of weeks — and all without violating Einstein’s law of relativity. Though still in the proof-of-concept phase, White and his colleagues are trying to turn theory into practice — and potentially change the nature of space travel as we know it. 

3. Scientists Enhance the Intelligence of Primates with a Chip

 

Back in September, scientists demonstrated that a brain implant could improve thinking ability in primates — and by a factor of 10 percent. By implanting an electrode array into the cerebral cortex of monkeys, researchers were able to restore — and even improve — their decision-making abilities. The implications for possible therapies are far-reaching, including potential treatments for cognitive disorders and brain injuries. And it also means the era of animal uplifting has begun

4. The Earth Experiences its First True Superstorm

 

 

 

Back in 1999, Art Bell and Whitley Strieber published a book titled The Coming Global Superstorm. It predicted that global warming would eventually result in sudden and catastrophic climatic effects — including the onset of unusually large storms. Now, 13 years later — although some are still loathe to admit it — the Atlantic Ocean experienced its first bona fide superstorm. Sandy was a colossal hurricane that occupied a space measuring 1.8 million square miles (4.6 million square kilometers), and stretched from the Mid-Atlantic to the Ohio Valley, and into Canada and New England. It may have been the first, but it certainly won’t be the last. 

5. The World’s First Cybernetic Hate Crime Occurs at a McDonalds in France

 

Steve Mann, the “father of wearable computing,” was physically assaulted while visiting a McDonalds in Paris, France. The Canadian university professor was at the restaurant with his family when three different McDonalds employees took exception to his “Digital Eye Glass” device and attempted to forcibly remove it from his head. Mann was then physically removed from the store by the employees, along with having his support documentation destroyed. It was the first ever recorded assault of a person instigated by the prominent display of a Google Glass-like wearable computer. 

6. Augmented Reality Goes Mainstream

 

 

 

Speaking of Google Glass — this was the year that augmented reality finally hit the big time. Back in April, Google unveiled preliminary designs and a short concept piece showcasing the technology — an initiative to create smart shades straight out of Vernon Vinge’s Rainbows End or Warren Ellis and Darick Robertson’sTransmetropolitan. Soon thereafter, beta testers could be seen cruising the streets of California with their sweet wearable devices. 

7. Researchers Create a Robot With Legs That Can Run Faster Than any Human

 

 

 

Boston Dynamics, along with funding from DARPA’s Maximum Mobility Program, significantly revved up their Cheetah Robot this year. The previous iteration ran at a speed of 18 mph (29 kph), but the new version clocked upwards of 28.8 mph (46.3 kph) — demolishing its previous record, and even surpassing the fasted recorded human speed on Earth. Not content to stop there, Boston Dynamics also upgraded their robotic pack mule (a.k.a. “Big Dog”) so that it can respond to vocal commands

8. The First Successful Commercial Cargo Delivery to Space Goes Off Without a Hitch

 

Early on the morning of October 10, SpaceX’s supply-hauling Dragon capsule was successfully captured by astronauts aboard the International Space Station, marking the first-ever commercial cargo delivery to the manned space outpost. With 11 resupply missions remaining in the SpaceX/NASA contract, it seems the private company’s billion-dollar delivery deal with The Agency is off to a good start — as is the prospect for commercial space flight in general. 

9. An Electric Car is the Year’s Best

 

If anyone ever doubted that electric cars were the future, those concerns were officially laid to rest in 2012. Tesla’s luxury Sedan, the Model S, captured one of the auto industry’s most prestigious awards by taking home Motor Trend‘s Car of the Year honors. It marked the first time that an electric car has taken the top prize — a vehicle that doesn’t run on gas or have an internal combustion engine. 

10. Doctors Communicate With a Man in a Coma

 

Back in 2010, neuroscientists confirmed that it was possible to communicate with some patients locked in a vegetative state by using an fMRI scanner. Though limited, the breakthrough suggested that more meaningful dialogue with patients in a coma could someday be possible. And now, two years later, it finally happened. A Canadian man in a vegetative state used his thoughts to tell scientists that he is not in any pain, marking the first time a patient in such a condition has relayed information relevant to their care. 

11. The First Large-Scale Geoengineering Project is Detected Off Canada’s West Coast

 

This wasn’t how it was supposed to play out, but a massive and illegal geoengineering project was detected off Canada’s west coast in October — the product of a “rogue geohacker” named Russ George. Backed by a private company, the U.S. businessmanunilaterally conducted the world’s most significant geoengineering project to date by dumping around 100 tonnes of iron sulphate into the Pacific Ocean, a technique known as ocean fertilization. The experiment, which is in violation of two United Nations moratoria, outraged environmental, legal, and civic groups. 

12. A Child Attends School By Sending a Robot in His Place

 

The rise of telecommuting robots has increasingly allowed stay-at-home workers to create a virtual presence at their remote workplaces. It now appears, however, that working professionals aren’t the only ones taking advantage of telepresence technologies: A six-year old boy with severe allergies from Seneca Falls, NY, is using a VGo robot to attend school — and it’s an experiment that appears to be working. The technology is quickly attracting the attention of other educators, including districts in Colorado, Arkansas, and Pittsburgh. It may only be a matter of time before VGo and other telepresence robots will make their way into other schools. 

13. A Paralyzed Woman Controls a Robotic Arm Using Only Her Mind

 

 

 

Researchers made significant improvements to BrainGate this year — a brain-machine interface that allows users to control an external device with their minds. Cathy Hutchinson, who has been paralyzed from the neck down for 15 years, was able to drink her morning coffee by controlling a robotic arm using only her mind. Hutchinson is one of two quadriplegic patients — both of them stroke victims — who have learned to control the device by means of the BrainGate neural implant. It’s the first published demonstration that humans with severe brain injuries can control a sophisticated prosthetic arm with such a system. 

14. Self-Driving Cars Become Legal in Several States

The Most Futuristic Predictions That Came True in 2012Slowly but surely we’re entering into the era of the driverless car. 2012 marked an important year as three states made autonomous vehicles legal, including California, Nevada, and Florida. Upon signing the bill into law in California, Governor Jerry Brown said they’re “turning today’s science fiction into tomorrow’s reality.” Self-driving cars, once perfected and produced en masse, will help with traffic congestion and significantly reduce the chance of auto accidents through the use of GPS, radar, and other technologies.

15. Scientists Create an Artificial Retina

 

Two British men who were completely blind for years were able to regain some of their vision after undergoing surgery to fit eye implants. The pioneering treatment is at an early stage of development, but it marks an important step forward in an effort to help those who have lost their sight from a condition known as retinitis pigmentosa. And in related news, other researcherssuccessfully streamed Braille patterns directly onto a blind person’s retina, allowing him to read letters and words visually, with almost 90% accuracy. Developed by researchers at Second Sight, the headset-like device is set to revolutionize the way degenerative eye diseases are treated. 

16. Researchers Create the First Complete Computer Model of a Living Organism

 

Stanford researchers created the first complete computational model of an actual organism — Mycoplasma genitalia, a sexually transmitted disease and the world’s smallest free-living bacteria at 525 genes. The breakthrough represented a significant step forward in the field of artificial life – and the promise of developing entirely new organisms. Through future work, scientists may be able to develop new approaches for the diagnosis and treatment of disease — including the creation of yeast or bacteria designed to mass-produce pharmaceuticals — and to create personalized medicine. And in other computer news, researchers successfully simulated a nuclear explosion down to the molecular level

Images: Pistorius via Startribune, uplift viaSteve Mann, SpaceX, MotorAuthority, geoengineering via Giovanni/Goddard Earth Sciences Data and Information Services Center/NASA, VGo robot via Derek Gee/Buffalo News, VGo, self-driving carartificial organism, coma and artificial retina via BBC.

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The Biggest Scientific Breakthroughs of 2012

Posted in SCIENCE, GEOLOGY,HEALTH, INVIRONMENT, TECHNOLOGY,ANTHROPOLOGY, ARCHAEOLOGY, with tags , on December 30, 2012 by 2eyeswatching

Post 1556

The Biggest Scientific Breakthroughs of 2012

By Robert T. Gonzalez and Annalee Newitz
The Biggest Scientific Breakthroughs of 2012

This was an incredible year for science and engineering. We sent a powerful robot scientist to Mars, and we discovered the elusive Higgs Boson particle, plus there were world-changing innovations in medicine and materials science. We sequenced the genome of a human ancestor, and looked into the mind of an artificial intelligence that recognized the content of images on the web for the first time (of course it included cat faces). Here are the seventeen biggest scientific breakthroughs of 2012.

 The Biggest Scientific Breakthroughs of 2012

NASA’s Curiosity Rover Lands on Mars

NASA’s one-ton, six-wheel-drive, nuclear-powered science laboratory — aka Curiosity — touched down on the surface of Mars in early August, following an eight-month voyage across millions of miles of space. It is far and away the biggest and most scientifically capable rover ever sent to another planet. The landing sequence, alone, which required lowering the rover to the surface of the planet from a hovering, rocket-powered sky crane, was the most technically impressive ever attempted, and played out beautifully.

Today, just five months into Curiosity‘s two-year primary mission, the rover is still just stretching its legs, but has already made several intriguing discoveries. In the months to come, the rover will begin poring over the pages of Mars’ history, as it scans the layers of sedimentary layers comprising Mount Sharp in search of signs of whether the planet can, or ever could, support life.

The Biggest Scientific Breakthroughs of 2012

Artificial DNA Brings Us Closer Than Ever to Synthesizing Entirely New Forms of Life

Synthetic biologists demonstrated that artificial nucleic acids known as “XNAs” can replicate and evolve just like DNA and RNA, and are even more resistant to degradation than the real thing. The implications of evolvable, artificial genetic information are vast, to put it lightly, and stand to affect everything from genetic research to the search for alien life, to the creation of an entirely synthetic, alternative life form.

The Biggest Scientific Breakthroughs of 2012

Computers Learn to Recognize the Content of Images for the First Time

Does anybody really have any doubt that the world’s first AI will be born in a Google server farm? This dream came closer to reality this year when Google’s secretive X Lab produced evidence that it had developed a neural network that could actually recognize what it was seeing in pictures. It did this by examining millions of images on YouTube for a few days, then offering the researchers some composite images of what it had learned to recognize. Two of those images were unmistakably human and cat faces. This is the first time computers have taught themselves to recognize the content of images, and is a major leap forward in the quest to find ourselves some artificially intelligent friends.

The Biggest Scientific Breakthroughs of 2012

Ancient DNA from Denisovans Sheds Light on What Made Homo sapiens Successful

This year, an international group of scientists completed a highly detailed analysis of DNA from what is estimated to be a 50-80,000 year old finger bone from a group of early humans called Denisovans. And it offered a glimpse at the genes that may have given modern humans an edge over our extinct counterparts. What the researchers found is that Denisovans shared a lot of genetic material with our human cousins, the Neanderthals. What set modern humans apart from both groups was a small set of genes that are related to brain development and cognition. It’s possible that Homo sapiens survived, while our human cousins did not, because of something to do with how our brains worked. From this Denisovan DNA, we also learned more about where Neanderthals and Denisovans lived, and how they migrated across Europe and Asia long before Homo sapiens ever got the idea to leave Africa. Thanks to this research, we have a more detailed picture than ever of what human life was like tens of thousands of years ago.

The Biggest Scientific Breakthroughs of 2012

Physicists Detect the Long-Sought Higgs Boson

After more than 40 years, the subatomic particle that some feared would never be described without the word “elusive” attached to it was finally detected: on the 4th of July, physicists from two experiments at the Large Hadron Collider announced that the Higgs Boson had been found. The Higgs represents the last missing piece of The Standard Model of particle physics, and helps explain how other elementary particles get their mass.

The discovery lost Stephen Hawking a $100-bet, and placed the future of particle physics on uncertain terrain. “Is the particle a Higgs boson of maximum simplicity, as predicted by the 40-year-old standard model of particle physics,” inquires Matthew Chalmers in this Nature News feature, “or is it something more complex and interesting that will point towards a deeper, more complete theory?” Only time — and new, powerful particle accelerators — will tell.

The Biggest Scientific Breakthroughs of 2012

Researchers publish ENCODE, the “Encyclopedia” of DNA

In what is arguably the biggest milestone for genetics since the publication of the human genome, researchers this year debuted The Encyclopedia of DNA Elements Project (aka The “ENCODE” Project), publishing 30 papers across three different scientific journals with the aim of cataloguing not just the genome’s various component parts, but what those components actually do. Among the initiative’s many findings was that so-called “junk DNA” – outlier DNA sequences that do not encode for protein sequences – are not junk at all, and are in fact responsible for such things as gene regulation, disease onset, and even human height.

The Biggest Scientific Breakthroughs of 2012

Researchers Create a Mammal Entirely from Stem Cells

For the first time in history, researchers at Kyoto University created a mouse by using eggs derived from stem cells alone. The achievement once again shows the remarkable possibilities presented by regenerative technologies like stem cells, while raising pressing ethical questions about the potential for human births in which parents might not be required.

The Biggest Scientific Breakthroughs of 2012

This Electronic Implant can Dissolve Inside Your Body

The boundary that divides man from machine continues to dissolve — often in more literal ways than you might imagine. Scientists in September announced a new class of implantable electronics that can carry out a designated task for anywhere from a few hours to several weeks before disappearing completely, resorbing into the body after serving its purpose. The potential applications of this technology — dubbed “Transient Electronics” by its creator, bioengineer John Rogers — are many, and run the gamut from vanishing biological implants to environmentally friendly phones.

The Biggest Scientific Breakthroughs of 2012

The First Study to Examine What Happens to Women Denied Abortions

For the first time in history, a group of researchers did a longitudinal study of what happens to women who seek out abortions, but are denied them under restrictive legal frameworks. The UC San Francisco research team followed nearly 1,000 women from diverse backgrounds across the U.S. over several years, after they were unable to have their abortions. What they discovered was that these women were more likely to slip below the poverty line, be unemployed, remain in abusive relationships with the fathers of their children, and feel stressed out from having too many responsibilities. Only a tiny percentage of them put their babies up for adoption, and most already had children before seeking an abortion. What this ongoing study demonstrates is that abortion is an economic issue for women, with dire consequences for those denied them.

The Biggest Scientific Breakthroughs of 2012

Spaceflight Goes Private

The future of space exploration belongs not to government agencies, but private companies, and California-based SpaceX is leading the way. This year, while NASA’s various Space Shuttles were busyhanging up their space bootsSpaceX became the first private company in history to complete a commercial cargo delivery to the International Space Station, the first of 12 contracted resupply missions in a $1.6-billion delivery deal with NASA.

Also on SpaceX’s docket: 20 commercial and non-U.S. government satellites and payloads; a $260-million contract with the U.S. Air Force; and plans for Martian settlement. With objectives like that, is it any wonder the company’s founder, Elon Musk, helped inspire Robert Downey Jr.’s portrayal of Tony Stark?

The Biggest Scientific Breakthroughs of 2012

The Environment is Falling to Shit, and People are Taking Notice

Arctic sea ice reached an all-time low in September; covering a mere 3.4 million square kilometers of Arctic Ocean, this year’s minimum was 800,000 square miles smaller than the previous record. Every month seemed to bring news of unprecedented heat. The record for “hottest 12-month period” was shattered no fewer than four times, and July was the hottest month in recorded U.S. history.

Meanwhile, record-setting droughtswildfires and hurricanes rocked the planet; new research indicates parts of Antarctica are warming three times faster than previously believed; BloombergBusinessweek called climate deniers stupid; and even idiots started believing in global warming.

The Biggest Scientific Breakthroughs of 2012

Autism Symptoms Were Reversed in Mice

Every year we learn more about the many mechanisms that can trigger autism, a complicated spectrum disorder that is still poorly understood. One incredible study this year offered hope for researchers seeking a way to understand how autism develops in some people, and perhaps one day craft a targeted gene therapy. Using mice with autism-like symptoms caused by a genetic mutation, the researchers figured out how to administer a protein that reversed the symptoms. No, it will not lead to a cure any time soon. It will lead to something better: An understanding of the many ways autism can start.

The Biggest Scientific Breakthroughs of 2012

A Working Tractor Beam

An experiment revealed that tractor beams are within our reach. For the first time, researchers demonstrated in the lab that a Bessel beam could be used to move a tiny silica sphere back and forth, drawing it toward and away from the source of the laser light. Though it had been theorized that Bessel beams worked like this, nobody had been able to do it. The team did this by essentially creating a strobe effect, using multiple lenses to create overlapping beams and adjusting the beams’ relative phases. This provided the required energy to move the object toward the beam.

The Biggest Scientific Breakthroughs of 2012

The World’s Most High-Tech Condom

At last, a rubber-meets-the-road moment for materials science. Using a nano-fabrication technique called electrospinning, a team of researchers created a female condom that is woven out of fibers that block sperm and also release a medicine that prevents HIV infections. The material can also be designed to harmlessly evaporate in a matter of hours or days, depending on what the woman wants. Sure, the Mars Rover could change the future. But this simple technology could change women’s lives all over the world right now.

The Biggest Scientific Breakthroughs of 2012

The Most Comprehensive Face Transplant in History

Yes, there have been face transplants before, but this was the first full-face transplant — and it worked marvelously well. The recipient had lost most of his face in a gun accident, and now has a full face that he was able to move within days of his surgery. This will lead to many more people gaining a new lease on life with a face that functions almost as well as the one they were born with — and possibly, better.

 The Biggest Scientific Breakthroughs of 2012

There Is More Water Than We Thought in the Solar System

This was the year of water in our solar system. We already had strong evidence of plentiful water on theMoon, and this year we found it for Mars, Jupiter’s moon Europa and Mercury — plus we got more detailed images of Saturn moon Titan’s river systems, which probably flow with liquid methane and ethane. Water on other planets isn’t exactly like water on Earth — usually it’s packed with hydrocarbons, or is extremely brackish. But now at least we have evidence that water isn’t as usual as we thought out there. Future space colonists may be able to mine for water on other words, using refineries to purify it into something potable.

 

 

 http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=F1PzYi8jmuo

Click to view

A Virus That Creates Electricity

One day you could power your laptop just by typing. And you’ll do it by using a virus called M13. The secret of M13 lies in something called the “piezoelectric effect,” which happens when certain materials like crystals (or viruses) emit a small amount of power when squeezed. M13 exhibits this effect, and also has the handy ability to organize itself into tidy, invisible sheets of film. Imagine painting a layer of this film onto the casing for your laptop. Every time you tap the keyboard, these viruses convert the pressure from your fingers into electricity that constantly powers up your battery. Any kind of motion can power up M13, so you could conceivably power your house by jumping up and down on a virus-coated floor, or power your iPod by jiggling it in your pocket. Also, don’t worry about a scary M13 pandemic where people start squeezing each other for energy. M13 only infects bacteria, so it is harmless to humans.

Why do mirrors reverse left and right, but not top and bottom?

Posted in SCIENCE, GEOLOGY,HEALTH, INVIRONMENT, TECHNOLOGY,ANTHROPOLOGY, ARCHAEOLOGY, with tags , on December 28, 2012 by 2eyeswatching

Post 1555

Why do mirrors reverse left and right, but not top and bottom?

Position yourself in front of a mirror and you’ll notice it immediately. The text on your sweatshirt is reversed. The part in your hair has switched to the other side of your reflection’s head. The mole on your left ear stares back at you from your mirror image’s right earlobe. Before you stands a bauplan reversed; what was once left is now right, and vice versa. And yet, up remains up and down is still down — as though the mirror knows to switch left and right, but not top and bottom.

This, of course, is not the case. The mirror doesn’t “know” anything about your position; it simply reflects the light that hits it, doing so as objectively as any inanimate object knows how. Why, then, when that reflected light reaches the photoreceptors in your eyes, has your mirror image been reversed from left-to-right?

The short answer is that it hasn’t. In fact, the question of what makes the horizontal axis so special in the context of mirrors is itself flawed. That’s because a mirror does not reverse images left-to-right or top-to-bottom, but from front-to-back. In other words, your mirror image hasn’t been swapped, but inverted along a third dimension, like a glove being turned inside out.

Here’s a thought experiment to help illustrate the concept of front-to-back reversal. Assume, for a second, that you are capable of squeezing your body perfectly flat. Imagine, also, that your body is able to pass through itself, without damaging any of its various tissues. When you stand with the tip of your nose pressed gently against a mirror, it’s easy to assume that the image you see looking back at you is the result of non-mirror you turning in-place 180 degrees and stepping backwards, through the mirror, into mirror-land. This is not the case.

In actuality, the back half of non-mirror you has been pressed flat in the direction of the mirror. As your form began to pancake, the front half of your body (that is, all parts of your body situated behind the tip of your nose, but still in front of the back half of your body), the back half of your body and the tip of your nose all came to reside within the same plane (i.e., the plane occupied by the mirror). But then your back half kept pushing, continuing on its journey through the plane of the mirror and passing right through your body’s front half before re-acquiring its “normal” shape on the other side of the mirror (probably with a satisfying *POP* sound). This new, inverted you is symmetrical to you, but your two bodies cannot be superimposed. In chemistry, such entities are said to be “chiral.”

 

 

 

 

Here’s another way to think of it, widely popularized by physicist Richard Feynman (see the interview response featured here). Stand in front of a mirror, and note which direction you’re facing. For the sake of this thought experiment, let’s assume you’re facing North. Point due East with your right hand, and your reflection points East as well. Point due west with your left hand, and your reflection gestures in the same direction. That’s because these directions both lie along a plane parallel with the mirror. Similarly, point up or down and your reflection will follow suit, motioning in the same direction.

But deviate from that parallel plane even a little and thinks go wonky. Remember: your image has been reversed along the axis perpendicular to the mirror. Try pointing directly at the mirror, such that your fingertip is now directed due North. Your reflection is now pointing directly at you — not North, like your finger, but South.

For more on the mirror paradox, thinking in three-space, chirality and handedness, see this great explainer, presented in the form of a conversation, by UC Riverside’s Eric Schmidt. See also: The Left Hand of the Electron, by Isaac Asimov.

Top image via Shutterstock

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Meet the cheap facial-recognition system that will identify you everywhere you go

Posted in SCIENCE, GEOLOGY,HEALTH, INVIRONMENT, TECHNOLOGY,ANTHROPOLOGY, ARCHAEOLOGY, with tags on December 28, 2012 by 2eyeswatching

Post 1554

Meet the cheap facial-recognition system that will identify you everywhere you go

 Meet the cheap facial-recognition system that will identify you everywhere you go

You are being watched — especially when you go to the airport. But now you might be recognized, too. A company called Flight Display Systems has been demonstrating a $9,275 facial recognition device (pictured here) that can be installed inside airplane doors to check the identity of every person entering the plane, and alert staff if there is an “unauthorized” person. Basically it’s just a souped-up CCTV camera, and it can be installed anywhere fairly unobtrusively.

The biggest problem? It’s only 75-90% accurate. Get ready for some serious civil liberties violations.

According to Aviation International News:

See3 is based on Linus Fast Access facial-recognition software but adds Flight Display’s own proprietary and expanding set of algorithms. The hardware consists of two main components–the camera and computer–both of which already have FAA parts manufacturer approval.

Placed at the entrance to the aircraft, the system elevates aircraft security by comparing the faces of those entering the airplane with a known database and alerting the crew of the entry of any unauthorized person.

See3 uses nearly 100,000 values to code a face image. Among the less complex of these are the obvious inter-ocular distance, distance between nose tip and eyes and the ratio of dimensions of the bounding box of the face. At this point, accuracy is between 75 and 90 percent, but Flight Display continues to add algorithms to improve on this.

So after going through two ID check points in the airport, 10-25% of people who are mis-identified as “unauthorized” are going to have to suffer the indignities of being kicked off a flight or searched or worse? Sounds like a great system.

Read more at Aviation International News. (Spotted on Evgeny Morozov’s Twitter feed)

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Why do we blink more than we need to?

Posted in SCIENCE, GEOLOGY,HEALTH, INVIRONMENT, TECHNOLOGY,ANTHROPOLOGY, ARCHAEOLOGY, with tags , on December 28, 2012 by 2eyeswatching

Post 1553

Why do we blink more than we need to?

 Why do we blink more than we need to?

Human blinking is somewhat of a mystery to scientists. While it’s well known that eye-blinking is done to lubricate the cornea, these seemingly spontaneous flashes happen at a rate that’s greater than what’s needed. But now, as new research from Japan suggests, our blinking patterns may serve an unexpected purpose — one that works to release our attention and mentally prepare us for the next task.

Indeed, we blink a lot — about 15 to 20 times every minute. And it all adds up. Studies show that400 milliseconds of visual time is lost every time we blink, which amounts to a surprising 10 percent of our total viewing time. Given that these blinking rates happen at a level several times higher than what’s required for adequate ocular lubrication, scientists have had good reason to suspect that something else is going on — something that’s clearly important.

 

A recent study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences offers some potential answers. Researchers Tamami Nakano, Shigeru Kitazawa, and colleagues now theorize that eye-blinks are actively involved in the resetting and delivery of attention. But to reach this conclusion, the researchers had to rely on two very important tools: An fMRI scanner and a Mr. Bean video.

For the experiment, Nakano et al recruited several volunteers who were asked to watchMr. Bean episodes while hooked up to an fMRI scanner. Previous studies by the same researchers showed that human eye-blinks become synchronized while watching these videos (i.e. eyeblinks tend to occur at implicit breakpoints) — so they had good reason to continue their research; it was clear that something was happening from a neurological perspective.

During the Mr. Bean episodes, the scientists observed that the participants were spontaneously blinking an average of 17.4 times per minute. But while the blinking was happening, there was observable activity occurring in two competing anatomical brain networks responsible for attention.

Specifically, they noticed spikes of mental activity in areas related to the default network — an area of the brain that allows us to enter into a kind of ‘idling’ mode when we’re in a state of wakeful rest (as opposed to focused attention). And at the same time, they noticed decreased cortical activity in the dorsal attention network (a sensory orienting system that helps us know where we should focus our attention).

Consequently, the researchers hypothesize that eye-blinks — because they activate the default network — are a way for us to take a super-quick mental break before renewing our attention on a new task or activity — and they tend to occur at logical transition points (e.g. the end of a scene, or the end of a sentence…like right now).

They speculate that this serves an important cognitive function, what gives us an increasedcapacity for focused attention after the cognitive reset.

The entire study can be read at Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

H/t: Smithsonian.

Image: Nejron Photo/Shutterstock.

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Phantom Eye Syndrome: When People Without Eyes Can Still See

Posted in SCIENCE, GEOLOGY,HEALTH, INVIRONMENT, TECHNOLOGY,ANTHROPOLOGY, ARCHAEOLOGY, with tags , on December 28, 2012 by 2eyeswatching

Post 1552

Phantom Eye Syndrome: When People Without Eyes Can Still See

 Phantom Eye Syndrome: When People Without Eyes Can Still See

We’ve all heard of phantom limb syndrome, but what if you lose something less mechanical? A much more complicated syndrome out there – one that produces a phantom eye.

With phantom limb syndrome, people with amputated limbs experience sensations in areas that no longer exist. These can be vague senses that their body part is still there even when they can see it’s gone, or they can be acute pain – like a clenched fist that can’t be unclenched even though all the muscles ache. All this sensation is illusory, but understandable. We all have a sense of where our body is and can feel how it moves, and we can conceptualize what such a phantom sensation would feel like. But there is a version of this syndrome that isn’t as well-known. About thirty to fifty percent of people who have had an eye removed experience phantom eye syndrome. This has some things in common with general phantom limb syndrome. People feel sensations in the missing eye. Sometimes it’s the sense that they need to blink, or that they’ve stayed up too long and their eye aches. For some it’s more serious, with people feeling real and immediate pain in the nonexistent eye.

A smaller percentage of people have phantom visions, as if they eye is still there. For the most part, they are basic geometrical shapes or colored lights. They’re described as tiles or fireworks, and occur thirty to forty percent of the time. One percent of cases have complex hallucinations. They can see objects or faces in the are of space usually seen by the eye. Occasionally these are vivid enough to be mistaken for the real world. And so they have a phantom eye that sees phantom objects.

Painful phantom limb syndrome has a strange, but simple, treatment. Set up a box with a diagonal mirror inside. Have the person put their existing limb in the box. The mirror will make it look, to the viewer, like the opposite limb. Have them relax or wriggle their limb. They’ll see that the missing limb appears undamaged, and often the pain goes away. Doctors think that the brain has a system meant to monitor where the body parts are, but which needs visual confirmation to check that its sense of them is correct. When doctors remove the limb, they don’t remove the part of the brain that both oversees the limb and checks up on it. If the limb disappears, the brain can conjure up sensations meant to get a person to pay more attention to their body – like pain. It’s a distress signal that the person can’t respond to. As soon as they “confirm” via the mirrored box, that the amputated limb is fine, the brain relaxes and gives up the idea of phantom sensations.

This isn’t possible with something like phantom eye syndrome. Some doctors prescribe tranquilizers or have the patient seek therapy. Strenuous exercise is also a very good way making the person forget to focus on the missing eye. Those who can’t be helped this way are given something much stranger. Some phantom eye syndrome sufferers receive a medical device that runs an electric current through the eye socket. This constant sensation either distracts from, or masks, the phantom sensations. They taser their phantom eye into submission. If only it were as simple as a mirrored box.

Image: Howie Le

Via NCBI three times.

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Most Amazing Earth Images of 2012

Posted in SCIENCE, GEOLOGY,HEALTH, INVIRONMENT, TECHNOLOGY,ANTHROPOLOGY, ARCHAEOLOGY, with tags , on December 28, 2012 by 2eyeswatching

Post 1551

Most Amazing Earth Images of 2012

OurAmazingPlanet Staff – Dec 26, 2012 10:18 AM ET
Amazing Images

Auroras Over AntarcticaCredit: ESA/A. Kumar & E. Bondoux.These bright green auroras dancing the sky brought a dose of cheer to the bleak, perpetually dark Antarctic winter. Below the stunning scene in the sky are the lonely lights of Concordia Station, situated in the middle of the East Antarctic Ice Sheet. The photo was snapped on July 18, during the austral winter

New 'Blue Marble'
New ‘Blue Marble’Credit: NASA/NOAA/GSFC/Suomi NPP/VIIRS/Norman KuringJust four days into the year, the Suomi NPP satellite sent back a breathtaking “Blue Marble” image of the Earth from its perch in orbit. The image was compiled from shots taken on multiple passes of the planet Jan. 4. This newest Blue Marble image is one of many iconic portraits of the planet, including the iconic one taken by the crew of Apollo 17 in 1972 and views taken by retreating space probes such as Voyagers 1 and 2.
Stunning Cloud Formation
Stunning Cloud FormationCredit: Richard H. HahnThis sight in the sky may look otherworldly, but it’s a terrestrial phenomenon known as a lenticular cloud that was caught by professional photographer Richard H. Hahn during sunset on Jan. 5. Lenticular clouds form when waves of moist, fast-moving air are pushed upward by winds and ascend over high mountains. At the higher altitudes, the water vapor in the air condenses. When the air moves over the mountaintop and descends to uniformly humid conditions, lenticular clouds form. They can look like one large, lens-shaped cloud, or several waves of moist air can result in lenticular clouds that resemble pancakes stacked atop each other, like the ones in this photo.
Sneaky Snow Leopards

Sneaky Snow LeopardsCredit: Panthera/FFI.Researchers got quite a surprise when one of the most elusive creatures on Earth, the snow leopard, was caught by motion-sensing cameras in a remote part of Tajikistan — and then stole one of the cameras! The photos taken by the cameras showed that the culprits were two young cubs. Other photos showed researchers that at least five snow leopards dwell in the region, as well as other rare creatures found in the area.

Crazy Cloud

 Crazy CloudCredit: Capt. Andreas M. van der WurffTotally tubular! This photo of what is known as a “roll cloud” was taken from a ship near Brazil on Feb. 6. Roll clouds sometimes form along with thunderstorms as the cold, sinking air of a downdraft causes warm moist air at the surface to rise. The moisture in that warm air condenses out as the air cools to form a cloud as winds from the storm “roll” the cloud parallel to the horizon.
World's Tiniest Chameleon
World’s Tiniest ChameleonCredit: PLoS One.Yes, that’s an actual, real chameleon perched on a human finger. The chameleon (Brookesia micra) was found on the biologically rich island of Madagascar and is the tiniest chameleon ever discovered. Adults grow to about 1 inch (30 millimeters) in length from nose to the tip of their tail.
Starry Sky
Starry SkyCredit: Tunc Tezel / The World At NightThis window the starry heavens was photographed in Utah’s Canyonlands National Park by astrophotographer Tunc Tezel on May 23. The image looks through a mysterious, manmade feature in the park called the False Kiva. Visible in the night sky are the planet Jupiter and the band of the Milky Way.
Solar Eclipse Shadow

Solar Eclipse ShadowCredit: NASAThousands of skywatchers peered up into the skies on May 20 to catch an annular lunar eclipse that was visible from Asia to the western United States. At the same time, NASA’s Terra satellite was looking down at the Earth and took a spectacular image of the moon’s shadow over the Pacific Ocean. Annular eclipses occur when the moon is at a point in its orbit that is too far from Earth to completely block the sun’s disk. The result is a ringlike, or annulus, effect.

Big Bull Shark

Big Bull SharkCredit: Emma Smith/333productionsShark researchers caught and tagged this whopper of a bull shark with a satellite tag to learn more about where the shark swims in an effort to conserve it and other species. The female shark tipped the scales at about 1,000 pounds (450 kilograms), the largest that Neil Hammerschlag, the researcher pulling the shark up in the photo, has ever caught, he said. Like other shark species, bull sharks are threatened by the shark fin trade, which cuts off shark fins to use in delicacies like shark fin soup.

Glories and Swirls

 Glories and SwirlsCredit: Jeff Schmaltz, LANCE MODIS Rapid ResponseThere are so many amazing features in this NASA satellite photo, taken on June 20, that it’s hard to know where to begin. What looks like a double rainbow streaking down the middle of the image is actually an optical phenomenon called a glory that is created by waves of light being scattered by water droplets in the atmosphere. The swirls to the right of the glories are so-called von Karman vortices, caused by the Pacific island of Guadalupe disrupting the southern flow of clouds, like the wake of a ship.
Astounding Rain Shaft
Astounding Rain ShaftCredit: Dhani Jones. Twitter: @dhanijonesWhile New Yorkers on the ground were busying scurrying through the streets with umbrellas in hand, former NFL player Dhani Jones was 10,000 feet in the air on his Delta flight and snapped a picture of a rain shaft, a term meteorologists use to refer to a heavy downpour coming from a single thunderstorm. One weather station in Queens measuring 2.83 inches (7 centimeters) of rain from storms that rolled through on July 18.
Stunning Supermoon Shot

Stunning Supermoon ShotCredit: Sven Lidstrom, National Science Foundation.Another stunning sight in the sky brought a little light to the United States’ Amundsen-Scott Station at the South Pole. When this photo was taken in early May, the large, bright supermoon was visible above the station. The supermoon occurs when the full moon stage coincides with the moon’s perigee, or closest monthly pass of the Earth. The bright of the moon gave researchers wintering over a little does of light.

Aurora Borealis from Above

 Aurora Borealis from AboveCredit: NASA Earth ObservatoryMost images of auroras come from the ground looking up, but the Suomi NPP satellite caught this spectacular image of an aurora from its aerie looking down on the planet. The auroras were generated by a powerful solar flare, known as a coronal mass ejection, hit Earth’s magnetic field on Oct. 8. The image shows the aurora dancing over the night lights of Canada’s Quebec and Ontario provinces.
Growing Glacier Crack
Growing Glacier CrackCredit: NASA Earth ObservatoryA giant fissure was discovered cracking across Antarctica’s Pine Island Glacier. A NASA satellite image taken on Sept. 14 showed that the crack was widening. Ultimately, the crack should extend across the glacier and spawn a new iceberg.
Sandy Smashes Shore

Sandy Smashes ShoreCredit: Carlos AyalaCarlos Ayala snapped this image of waves crashing ashore near the Verrazano Bridge in Brooklyn during Hurricane Sandy on Oct. 29. Sandy’s waves broke records, with a 32.5-foot (9.9 meters) detected southeast of Breezy Point, NY, and a 31-foot-high (9.4 m) wave recorded at a buoy located 30 nautical miles (55 km) south of Islip, Long Island.

'Black Marble'

Black Marble’Credit: NASA Earth Observatory.Bookending our look back at the year comes another entry from the Suomi NPP satellite. The satellite’s team recently released a set of images they are calling the “Black Marble,” because they are shots of the Earth taken at night. The images were taken in April and October and span the globe, showing city lights at night, the nocturnal glow produced by Earth’s atmosphere (called air glow), and even lights from ships at sea.
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