Go to the Globe and Mail homepage

Jump to main navigationJump to main content

Social Studies

Ever more human, electronic skin, aging brains Add to ...

Ever more human

"A robot capable of deceit has been developed by American military researchers," Nick Collins reports for The Daily Telegraph. "A new program enables a robot to detect whether another robot is susceptible to lies, and to use its gullibility against it by telling lies, researchers claim. The robot could be capable of deceiving humans in a similar way, according to the scientists, based at the Georgia Institute of Technology. … Its understanding of the concept of deception would enable the robot to avoid being captured, the scientists said."

No hard feelings

A group of people who were victims of shark attacks has called on the United Nations to stop sharks from being fished into extinction, The Guardian reports. "The nine victims want a ban on finning, a gruesome practice in which fishermen cut off a fin for shark fin soup and then dump the fish back in the water to drown or bleed to death. … For Krishna Thompson, a New York banker who nearly died after a shark took his left leg, the scale of that carnage easily trumps his personal loss. 'I was attacked by a shark. Yes it was a tragedy but that is what sharks do, I can't blame the shark for what it did,' he said. 'You have to put that aside and look at the bigger picture: 73 million sharks killed yearly for shark finning.' "

Electronic skin

"Biotech wizards have engineered electronic skin that can sense touch, in a major step toward next-generation robotics and prosthetic limbs," Agence France-Presse reports. "The lab-tested material responds to almost the same pressures as human skin and with the same speed, they reported in the British journal Nature Materials. Important hurdles remain but the exploit is an advance toward replacing today's clumsy robots and artificial arms with smarter, touch-sensitive upgrades, they believe. 'Humans generally know how to hold a fragile egg without breaking it,' said Ali Javey, an associate professor of computer sciences at the University of California at Berkeley, who led one of the research teams. 'If we ever wanted a robot that could unload the dishes, for instance, we'd want to make sure it doesn't break the wine glasses in the process. But we'd also want the robot to grip the stock pot without dropping it.' "

Aging brains

- "A review of psychometric exams used to assess mental aging reveal that things are not as bad as once suspected," Psych Central News reports. "Although mental abilities decline with age, the drop is not as steep as earlier studies suggested. The study is published by the American Psychological Association. 'There is now convincing evidence that even vocabulary knowledge and what's called crystallized intelligence decline at older ages,' said study author Timothy Salthouse, PhD."

- "People who were still developing in the womb at the time of severe Second World War food shortages did worse than others of similar ages at mental tests almost 60 years later, researchers say. Scientists, writing in the PNAS journal, said the 1944 Dutch famine may have accelerated brain aging," BBC News reports. "… The so-called Hongerwinter was a six-month period during which food deliveries to the people of the northern Netherlands were restricted by German occupying forces. This produced a humanitarian disaster." This latest research effort was the second time the group of about 300 adults had been studied - tests in the 1970s found no differences in performance to similarly aged people. However, in the second study, their results in a "selective attention test" were worse. The test measures how well the brain can deal with competing distractions. Poorer performance in this type of test is generally linked to advancing age.

How to dry your hands

"Washing your hands is not enough to stop the spread of disease - you need to dry them too, say scientists," The Daily Express reports. "But how you go about it makes all the difference to infection control. Wiping wet hands on your clothes is no good. And even rubbing them together under a conventional hand dryer could prove hazardous. Bacteria that live in the skin can be brought to the surface and transferred by rubbing. The safest options are paper towels or modern dryers that rapidly strip off moisture. Dr. Anna Snelling, of Bradford University, said: 'Good hand hygiene should include drying hands thoroughly and not just washing.' "

Messy eater

"Only one type of fish," BBC Focus magazine reports, "can sneeze - the hagfish, or slime eel (Myxine glutinosa). A primitive species of jawless fish lacking true fins or scales, the hagfish bores inside other fish, eating their internal organs until [the victim is]completely hollow. It then secretes vast amounts of slime to lubricate its body to exit its prey's empty carcass, preventing itself from suffocating in its own slime by sneezing it out of its primitive respiratory slits."

Thought du jour

"The human brain is unique in that it is the only container of which it can be said that the more you put into it, the more it will hold."

- Glenn Doman, 1964

Follow us on Twitter: @globeandmail

 

In the know

Most popular videos »

Highlights

More from The Globe and Mail

Most popular