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Nerves for the Earth, armed servants, babies as judges Add to ...

Will you work for a robot?

"If you've ever joked about your boss being a robot," New Scientist advises, "stop laughing, they soon could be. A Web service has launched that allows software algorithms to automatically recruit, hire and pay workers to do a wide variety of tasks. 'For the last 60 years, humans have controlled software - now we're getting to the stage where software can control humans,' says Matt Barrie of Australian website Freelancer.com. The website normally provides a forum for companies wanting to outsource their work. Now it has been upgraded so that developers can write software to post job adverts on the site, take on respondents and pay them for the results without human input. … Barrie says there are enough programmers on the site's books for it to be possible to write software that can even improve itself, by recruiting people to improve its own code."

Nerves for the Earth

Hewlett-Packard has recently announced it's working on a project it calls the Central Nervous System for the Earth. "In coming years, the company plans to deploy a trillion sensors all over the planet," CNN.com reports. "The wireless devices would check to see if ecosystems are healthy, detect earthquakes more rapidly, predict traffic patterns and monitor energy use. The idea is that accidents could be prevented and energy could be saved if people knew more about the world in real time, instead of when workers check on these issues only occasionally." HP will take its first step toward this goal in about two years, a senior researcher said.

Armed servants

"Homes of the future are often depicted as efficient spaces in which robots are programmed to carry out mundane domestic tasks, from cleaning to carrying out simple repairs or even preparing dinner," The Daily Telegraph reports. However, "… German researchers have warned that robots in the home could prove dangerous - particularly when armed with sharp objects. To discover what would happen if a robot wielding a sharp tool - such as a knife or a screwdriver - accidentally struck a person, researchers at the Institute of Robotics and Mechatronics, part of the national aerospace agency, … programmed a mechanical arm holding a variety of instruments to strike a series of substances that mimicked human tissue. The robot stabbed and punctured a lump of silicone, a pig's leg and even a brave human volunteer's arm - causing damage that could potentially be lethal, according to scientists."

Cough, cough

"Unborn babies are clearly aware of bad smells early on … - a baby in the womb will actually cringe when she smells cigarette smoke," Babytalk magazine reports.

Babies as judges

"Mothers and fathers might think they have few higher duties than teaching a sense of right and wrong to their children. But research suggests that their offspring may already be a step ahead of them," Maurice Chittenden reports for The Sunday Times of London. "Scientists have discovered that babies can start to make moral judgments by the age of six months and may be born with the ability to tell good from bad hard-wired into their brains. Infants can even act as judge and jury in the nursery. Researchers who asked one-year-old babies to take away treats from a 'naughty' puppet found they were sometimes also leaning over and smacking the figure on the head." The study, by researchers at Yale University, has drawn criticism from other scientists who contend that adult assumptions may be colouring how the children's actions were interpreted.

What is wisdom?

Two professors of psychiatry at the University of California, San Diego, have asked a group of international experts to characterize the traits of intelligence, wisdom and spirituality, Psych Central News reports. The consensus definition of wisdom:

- It is uniquely human.

- It is a form of advanced cognitive and emotional development that is experience-driven.

- It is a personal quality, albeit rare.

- It can be learned, increases with age and can be measured.

- It is probably not enhanced by taking medication.

Tricky questions

Job-seekers report being asked these brain-teasers during interviews, according to Glassdoor.com:

- How many tennis balls are in this room and why? (asked at Yahoo)

- If I put you in a sealed room with a phone that had no dial tone, how would you fix it? (Apple)

- If you were a brick in the wall, which brick would you be and why? (Nestle USA)

- How would you move Mount Fuji? (Microsoft)

- Say you are dead - what do you think your eulogy would say about you? (Nationwide Insurance)

Source: Wired magazine (British edition)

Muscle for the library

In Britain, a local government body has hired a bouncer for one of its public libraries, Orange U.K. News reports. Norfolk County Council said the library, in King's Lynn, was plagued by children "running about screaming and shouting." The children, according to councillor Derrick Murphy, terrorized and tormented two female librarians.

Thought du jour

"If the human brain were so simple that we could understand it, we would be so simple that we wouldn't."

- Emerson Pugh

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