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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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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Facial Recognition System Traces 3,000 Missing Children

Sometimes, we know how cruel the world can be. It is an inevitable truth to admit that the world is not perfect, that there are many factors that contribute to its dangers. And sometimes, it hurts even more when we see its effects brought upon children, who are somehow quite more vulnerable to the world. And then sometimes, there are amazing folks who in their personal ways counteract these dangers through kindness, like a millionaire opening his own home to foster children displaced by a hurricane, or a ticket agent rescuing teenage girls from human trafficking.

Today, technology is our children’s hero. Through a new facial recognition system, 3,000 missing children have been traced by the authorities.

The [facial recognition system] was employed by the Delhi police department on a trial basis to scan the faces of 45,000 children living in children’s homes . . . During its testing phase between April 6 and April 10, 2,930 kids were recognized as missing children . . . The technology uses a massive database of photographs and profiles to match the facial features of any child to that of a “missing person”.

Efforts are currently ongoing to reunite these children with their families. If city police are given free use of the facial recognition system, it could identify more and more missing children, which is why a children’s rights organization called Bachpan Bachao Andolan is working on a proposal so that the Delhi police department may use the tech free of charge. The National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) is also campaigning for the use of the technology.

“If such a type of software helps trace missing children and reunite them with their families, nothing can be better than this,” said Yashwant Jain, a member of NCPCR.

Through innovations like this, perhaps we might bring happiness and sincere smiles to the world, one child’s face at a time.

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Qatar’s First Humanitarian Org Celebrates 40 Years

Last March 20, Qatar Red Crescent Society or QRCS held a grand celebration of its 40-year anniversary at the Katara Cultural Village in Doha. Attended by the country’s government officials, business leaders, senior officers and volunteers, and other representatives, it was an important event in the field of development and humanitarian advocacy. But it marked even more important achievements.

Established on March 20, 1978, QRCS “boasts of a track record of achievements, lessons learnt and milestones”, it has said in a statement. “These successes have shaped the arena of charitable and social work in Qatar, and enriched the country’s bright image as a major humanitarian player around the world.”

Committed to its slogan “Saving Lives and Preserving Dignity,” the QRCS—as a member of the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC)—has helped develop zones afflicted by disasters, conflict, and poverty.

“Being Qatar’s first humanitarian organisation, QRCS became a pioneer in its vision, principles and efforts. Now, it serves as an auxiliary to Qatar in its humanitarian policies both locally and internationally. Also, it has become a role model for many NGOs and humanitarian service providers, which follow its strategies and operations,” the statement adds.

The day’s highlights include a special ceremony to honor the organization’s chief contributors and volunteers, the opening to a public exhibit of QRCS’s timeline and history at the Katara Corniche, a showcase and invitation for volunteering opportunities, and even kid-friendly activities.

However, humanitarian advocacy is not only enacted on the organization level, but some powerful individuals constantly do their share, exemplified by other recent milestones in philantropy such as charity auctions for the homeless and benefit concerts for diverse causes. Perhaps even in our smallness, we could wonder about the small ways we could contribute to the giant mission of relieving the suffering of others.

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Scotland’s Wind Power Enough for 5 Million Homes

Attempts at finding alternative energy sources to fossil fuels might seem like everyday news—of course not futile, still of course productive and necessary, though less surprising. Every so often, some efforts make the world extra proud, extra green, and extra clean, like perhaps seeing the biofuel potential of kelp farms in the vastness of the Pacific Ocean and running an entire school in Denmark solely through solar power.

Today, one groundbreaking (or windbreaking?) story brings us a breath of fresh air. Scotland has achieved another wind power record by supplying energy equivalent to the usage of five million homes.

“Renewables have provided an incredible amount of power during the first three months of this year,” Dr. Sam Gardner, WWF Scotland’s acting director, said in a statement. “An increase of 44 percent on the record-breaking equivalent period in 2017 is clear evidence the investment made in this technology has paid off for the economy and the environment, putting Scotland at the forefront of the fight against climate change.”

In the first quarter of 2018, 5.3 million megawatt hours of energy were generated by Scotland’s wind turbines. March 1, considered so far as the best day in the country for wind power, produced 110,000 megawatt-hours of energy that could have provided for 173 percent of the nation’s entire electricity demand.

But WWF Scotland’s acting director is not only proud; he wants the potential of the country’s wind power production to serve as a call to action for the rest of the UK.

“If Scotland’s full renewables potential is to be unleashed to power our economy, heat our homes and charge our cars, then the UK government needs to stop excluding the cheapest forms of power, like onshore wind and solar, from the market,” he said.

With this record and all its implications for Scotland’s—and perhaps the UK’s—future, not only is Scotland taking our breath away, it is set to take the world by windstorm.

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Dogs Love Baby Talk, Study Says

Dear dog moms and dog dads, fret not. When your pup saves people from a house fire, learns a new trick that would make the family proud, or simply behaves like the good boy that he is, you are not delusional to spend a few minutes babying him. You don’t even need to get him a comfy armchair or mouth-watering treats, researchers at York University say that dogs appreciate baby talk or high-pitched “dog speak.”

“Obviously we know that dogs can’t learn to talk, so we wanted to know whether dog-speak also has a function for dogs, or whether it is simply something we tend to use with our pets in a culture where we think of dogs as part of the family, like fur-babies,” lead author Alex Benjamin told HuffPost […]

The researchers wanted to see if the dogs were interested in the high-pitched intonation used for them or if they were responding to the actual words said to them. After conducting speech tests with 69 adult ones, the research team discovered that dogs were most likely to engage with people who mix dog-directed speech (high-pitched tone) and dog-related content (“Who’s a good boy? You’re a good boy!”).

“I was a little surprised that in the second experiment, neither content, nor prosody ― which [is] intonation of the voice ― was driving the dogs’ preference,” she said. “I think it is really interesting that our dogs are able to use both acoustic and content information to determine what speech might be meant for them.”

So next time, when somebody says that you’re just being a crazy dog mom or dad, give them the scientific basis of your adoration. Perhaps using baby talk could help you guys communicate, too.

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Interracial Couple Marry On U.S.-Mexico Border

While human rights activists are seeing progress in countries such as Saudi Arabia, some causes remain stagnant. With little headway on the Trump administration’s hostility towards Mexico, an interracial couple decided to make a statement. Mexican bride Evelia Reyes married San Diego native Brian Houston at the steel border gate dividing both countries.

“It’s a statement that love has no borders,” [said] Houston… “Even though we are divided by a giant fence here, we can still love each other on both sides of the fence.”

Though Reyes has applied for a green card, the process could take over a year. For the ceremony, Border Patrol opened the gates, known as the “Door of Hope” for an hour. Relatives passed through for a mere three minutes to greet and embrace one another before shuttling back onto either side. Border Angels executive director Enrique Morones arranged the ritual.

“While some people want to build walls, we want to open doors,” Morones said.

Opened only for the 6th time sine 2013, the border is a symbol of hard times — but also a reminder than we can overcome them.

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Twitter Backfire Raises Thousands For Girls’ Education In Africa

September alone has seen many successful fundraisers. In a month, a deaf boy raised $15,000 for deaf children in need. Similarly, a group of El Segundo cops raised $5,000 for a student robbed of her college fund. Students at the Craigburn Primary School in South Australia raised a whopping $200,000 to educate girls in Africa — thanks to an unanticipated Twitter backfire.

Senator Bernardi tweeted his frustration about the idea on Wednesday by writing, “This gender morphing is really getting absurd.”

The campaign, known as Do It In A Dress, encourages students of all genders to sport dresses for the sake of awareness. Australian charity OneGirl has been running the project for six years, schooling others on the lack of education for African girls. Despite the backlash, Bernardi, whose tweet prompted a frenzy of donations, stands by his opinion.

“I think, and many parents think, that it’s completely inappropriate for a school to encourage their male teachers and male students to wear drag at a casual clothes day,”

Ru Paul ought to give Bernardi a lesson in empowerment. OneGirl executive Morgan Koegel expressed her surprise over the positive response of benefactors. The tight-knit Australian fundraising community is proof that anyone can do good — no matter what the attire.

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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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Dad Works As Janitor To Send Kids To College

Parents will do almost anything for their children. They will take an extra shift or, if they’re tech-savvy, defend their kids on social media. Dad-of-five Fred Vautour set the ultimate standard, working 23 years as a graveyard shift janitor at Boston College to send his kids to school.

“I came from a poor family and kind of a broken home and I was kind of on my own,” Fred Vautour explained. “I did my best to be a father and a family man.”

Boston College, which provides benefits for its staff, granted all five of Vautour’s children a place in the school. While Vautour was able to save $700,000 in tuition, his greatest pride was watching each of them graduate.

“I want to be remembered as the grandkids knowing that their grandfather did a lot for my own,” he said. “And my kids are learning from that and they seem to be doing well with their kids, too, so it’s a trickle-down effect.”

Vautour has expressed his gratitude and still works at the university, however bittersweet. The hardworking dad has proved that status isn’t everything. Sometimes, being a good parent is enough.

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