Cool Similarity Between How Humans and Animals Communicate

While we have probably encountered a parrot at least once in our lives and have recently received news of orcas imitating their human trainers’ speech, we don’t really expect most animals to talk the way humans talk to each other. But surprisingly enough — they do!

According to a comprehensive new study, many species pause in their “conversations” to facilitate taking turns. For many years, this turn-taking has long been thought to be a solely human trait, but it has since been observed everywhere — from birds to whales to elephants.

After reviewing hundreds and hundreds of studies about mammals, amphibians, and many other classifications, the research team proposed a framework to understand how different animals communicate. Their findings imply that we might soon be able to understand how we evolutionarily began to communicate as well.

“The ultimate goal of the framework is to facilitate large-scale, systematic cross-species comparisons,” says one of the team, linguist Kobin Kendrick from the University of York in the UK.

“Such a framework will allow researchers to trace the evolutionary history of this remarkable turn-taking behaviour and address longstanding questions about the origins of human language.”

While taking turns was discovered to be common among many species, the gaps in the “conversations” vary. Songbirds take less than 50 milliseconds before they answer their fellow songbird. The gap in sperm whales can reach up to two seconds in between replies. Meanwhile, pauses in human conversations tend to be around 200 milliseconds.

Other interesting findings include what’s socially acceptable among other species. For instance, birds called European starlings avoid overlaps when they communicate. In human terms, this means that they don’t talk over each other. When that happens, it results in silence or one of the birds flying away. Fascinating, huh?

Since about 50 years ago, scientists have already been studying the ways animals communicate. But what’s different now is the large comparative scale of this analysis. Previous findings have never been compared, but now even human linguists are collaborating with the effort.

“We came together because we all believe strongly that these fields can benefit from each other, and we hope that this paper drives more cross talk between human and animal turn-taking research in the future,” says [Sonja Vernes from the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics in the Netherlands].

Who knows? One day we might not only be studying how communication happens across different species, but how it could eventually happen between different species.

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Hubble Space Telescope Celebrates with New Nebula

NASA has more cause to celebrate than discovering the possibility of life on Saturn’s Moon and four earth-sized planets. This year, the 28th anniversary of the Hubble Space Telescope is marked by gorgeous images and a fly-through video of a breathtaking accomplishment: the Lagoon Nebula.

Hubble, a joint project of NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA), launched on April 24, 1990. The ESA’s Hubble site describes the Lagoon Nebula as a “colossal object” that’s 55 light-years in width and 20 light-years in height. Even though it is about 4,000 light-years away from Earth, it is three times larger in the sky than the full Moon.

The entirety of the Lagoon Nebula cannot be completely captured by the images NASA released, showing only its heart. But the magnificence we can glimpse at is still mind-blowing. It joins a stellar line-up of the previous years’ anniversary explorations of the Hubble Space Telescope, including the Bubble Nebula and a pair of spiral galaxies. As part of the celebration, the Hubble site also publicizes some trivia for us:

Since its launch, the space telescope has made over 163,500 trips around Earth, more than 1.5 million observations of over 43,500 celestial objects and generated 153 terabytes of data.

28 years ago, the scientists and astronomers that were part of the core team for this project had soaring ambitions, and yet they probably never imagined the heights their Hubble Space Telescope would reach. What a remarkable feat for science. And today, with another dazzling nebula, what a remarkable reminder of how science allows us to see the beauty of the universe.

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Recycling Robot “Daisy” Eats 200 iPhones an Hour

Technology nowadays strives to maintain its status as a life changer, with Apple adapting to people’s health-oriented lifestyles, a blockchain program providing social services to the homeless, and Google dabbling in environmentalism by being the biggest buyer of clean energy.

In keeping up with this trend, Apple now introduces its newest robot named “Daisy.”

The massive robot, which Apple says can tear apart iPhones at a rate of 200 per hour, is able to separate the various internal components of an iPhone and sort them into easy-to-access piles. Using this method, Apple say it’s able to recycle a greater volume of materials than it would if it used other methods, since more of the parts are maintained.

In 2016, Apple already announced the creation of “Liam,” a recycling robot which can take apart unwanted units of the iPhone 6. That one seemed to serve as an experimental prototype for “Daisy,” which can now chew up to nine different iPhone models, almost every model except for the iPhone X.

The announcement comes as part of a series of new environmentally-friendly announcements the company made to coincide with Earth Day. Apple also announced a new GiveBack program for making donations to Conservation International, and a new Apple Watch feature that will reward users who exercise outdoors on Earth Day.

Apple continues to prove itself a titan, apparently wanting to be at the top even of the environmental game.

It’s just a teeny-tiny bit ironic that a recycling robot will save the environment from electronic pollution, isn’t it? Seems like the trajectory of technology has a lot more surprises in store for us in the coming years.

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Tech Giants Unite Against Cyber Attacks

The past few years have seen tech giants display social accountability in different ways, especially when governments seem to lack the effort or perhaps the mobility in helpless situations, as in the case of Tesla providing batteries and Google’s parent, Alphabet, bringing Internet back to Puerto Rico after disaster hit the area. This display of accountability might have recently reached its peak as more than 30 global technology companies signed a joint pledge not to assist governments in cyber attacks.

“We recognise that we live in a new world,” Microsoft president, Brad Smith, said during a speech at the RSA cyber security conference in San Francisco. “We’re living amidst a generation of new weapons, and where cyberspace has become the new battlefield.”

Smith, who led efforts to organise the alliance, said the devastating cyber attacks in 2017 demonstrated the need for the technology sector to “take a principled path toward more effective steps to work together and defend customers around the world.”

Microsoft, Facebook, and many others have announced their cooperation in the Cybersecurity Tech Accord, which seeks to protect customers against cyber attacks regardless of political or criminal motives. New partnerships or networks within the tech industry and with tech researchers might also be built, so that they could share information on cyber threats.

It builds on an idea for a so-called Digital Geneva Convention that Smith rolled out at last year’s RSA conference, a proposal to create an international body to protect civilians from state-sponsored hacking. Countries, Smith said then, should develop global rules for cyber attacks similar to those established for armed conflict at the 1949 Geneva Convention that followed World War Two.

It is also great to hear that in addition to the tech giants working on their own movement to protect civilians, they are also calling on governments for the development on new international rules regarding political conflict.

Even in the transnational geopolitical landscape, perhaps the future of humanity really lies with tech.

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Discarded Electronics Are Literal Gold Mines

If you have seen any dystopian film or have read any piece at all of dystopian literature, you would know that a landscape made of metal offers intense horrors that bank on some of the deep-seated fears of today’s society.

Realistically speaking, we have been inventing ways to address the problem of metal such as recycling laptop batteries into a source of alternative energy or something as strangely innovative as making stylish backpacks out of car parts, but there is a need to push further. A trio of researchers recently took a shot at that and conducted a study which tries to answer how profitable it is to recover metals from old electronics.

In 2016 alone, the world discarded 44.7 million metric tons of unusable or simply unwanted electronics, according to the United Nations’ 2017 Global E-Waste Monitor report. That’s 4,500 Eiffel Towers-worth of phones, laptops, microwaves, and TVs. Only 20 percent of this e-waste was properly recycled that year. The rest was likely either incinerated, pumping pollution into the atmosphere, or added to a landfill somewhere, with its toxins now leaking into our soil and water supply.

It turns out, urban mining costs much less than traditional mining. The researchers from Beijing’s Tsinghua University and Sydney’s Macquarie University published their results in a scientific journal after collecting data from recycling companies in China. While the cost of recycling might vary from country to country, China’s status as the world’s biggest producer of e-waste makes light of the truth that the practice of urban mining could have a big impact on both economic and environmental matters.

[W]e already knew electronics contain precious metals in addition to all that glass and plastic. While a single smartphone might not contain all that much, consumers buy about 1.7 billion of the devices each year. In just one million of those, you’ll find roughly 75 pounds of gold, 35,000 pounds of copper, and 772 pounds of silver.

Necessary reminder though: this is no reason at all to justify our technological consumption practices. If anything, it should make us ask more conscientiously, what do I do with my smartphone once I find a new replacement that has great upgrades and loads informative online articles (like this!) much faster?

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Divers Discover Ancient Castle In Turkey’s Lake Van

Truly, 2017 has been a year of discovery — whether we’ve unearthed something new or deeply hidden in the past. While astronomers observed snow on Mars, casual hikers came across a fossilized Cretaceous water bird. Adding to this year’s list of wow moments are archeologists from the Van Yüzüncü Yıl University. Divers discovered an ancient fortress dating as far back as 9 B.C. in Turkey’s Lake Van.

“It is a miracle to find this castle underwater,” [head diver Tahsin Ceylan] added. “Archaeologists will come here to examine the castle’s history and provide information on it,” he said.

The castle presumably existed under the Uratu civilization in the iron age. Bearing in mind that the structure has been underwater for over 3,000 years, it’s a miracle that its walls are still intact up to 13 feet. Lake Van itself is some 600,000 years old and likely harbors other mysteries.

“With this belief in mind, we are working to reveal the lake’s secrets,” Mr Ceylan added.

Home to unusual stalagmite formations and numerous shipwrecks, who knows what else Lake Van might be hiding?

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London Buses To Run On Coffee Fuel

Coffee: it’s every workaholic’s go-to beverage and, astoundingly, perfect for manufacturing sportswear. Nowadays, it isn’t just perfect for a pick-me-up — it’s potentially fueling London’s signature double-decker buses.

“Instead of sending a tonne of waste coffee grounds to landfill where it degrades and releases methane and CO2, we collect it, recycle it and turn it into a renewable fuel which is then used to replace further conventional fuels – so it’s a double saving”, [said] Bio-bean founder Arthur Kay.

Among the heaviest Americano consumers, Londoners contribute up to 200,000 tons of coffee waste annually. To make the most out of discarded grounds, Bio-bean is extracting 6,000 liters of oil to mix into fuel. The final blend is of 20% biofuel, which will also help to reduce carbon emissions.

“We’re not saying that it’s going to totally replace fossil fuels overnight,” Kay said.

“The amount of diesel produced globally is always going to be more than the amount of coffee.”

Considering London buses run nearly 2 billion trips a year, Bio-bean’s initiative could encourage alternative energy use. Perhaps a beer fuel may even be in talks.

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Chatbot Will Combat Email Scammers For You

Since Instagram developed a bot to tackle hate speech, developers have been training them to do other things. Apart from trolls and cyberbullies, netizens also often deal with email scammers. It’s now a lot less hassle-free to shut them down — just contact Netsafe’s genius chatbot.

Next time you get a dodgy email in your inbox, says Netsafe, forward it on to me@rescam.org, and a proxy email address will start replying to the scammer for you, doing its very utmost to waste their time.

Re:scam isn’t anything fancy. In fact, it doesn’t even recognize speech. Its responses are random at best, but vague enough to be believable. It may not pull off a bust itself, but it’ll buy you enough time (and evidence) to take action.

Netsafe’s new online gadget may not be the most sophisticated, but it surely is a reflection of what artificial intelligence is truly capable of. And if you’re the type of hold a grudge, it’s the perfect tool for sweet revenge.

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Volkswagen To Debut Electric Zero-Emissions Beetle

Eco-friendly vehicles have come a long way from simply being prototypes. Manufacturers have been ambitious with emissions-free cars, even attempting to assemble them using resin. However, for big names in the industry, keeping it simple is key. Known for its funky appearance, the VW Beetle is getting another makeover — this time, it’s going electric.

“If we wanted to do a Beetle, electrically it would be much better than today’s model, much closer to history, because it could be rear-wheel drive,” said [VW chairman Herbert] Diess.

It may still be in the talks, but VW already has its hands full with an electric version of its classic microbus. Despite their overflowing to-do list, it seems fans of the Bug are on their toes. Thrilled prospective customers have been pleading with the chairman to follow through via letters and e-mails.

VW is aiming for a massive revamp of its vehicles by 2030. While that may seem a long ways away, its $24 billion budget speaks volumes about the group’s potential.

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Sri Lanka To Wipe Gas Vehicles By 2025

When improper waste disposal procedures are producing islands of trash, it may be time to consider the weight of environmental issues. One by one, communities are diverting themselves from fossil fuels to pursue more environmentally friendly energy options. For state-owned vehicles in Sri Lanka, electric and hybrid cars will be stepping in as replacements as early as 2025.

Private owners have until 2040 to replace their cars, tuk-tuks and motorcycles, when the country plans to no longer allow any fossil fuel-burning vehicles on its roads… said [Finance Minister Mangala Samaraweera].

Home to roughly 6.8 million vehicles, Sri Lanka’s transition into electric will benefit the country immensely. To encourage a hassle-free switch, the government is encouraging consumers by cutting taxes on electric cars.

“The tax on electric cars will be reduced by over a million rupees (S$8,851) to encourage motorists to switch to clean energy,” Mr. Samaraweera told parliament.

On the other hand, Samaraweera is also hiking carbon and import taxes to discourage keeping gas vehicles. With inflation on the rise, Sri Lanka’s bumpy ride will hopefully segue into smoother (and sustainable) sailing.

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