The funerary practices of the ancient Egyptians can still reveal surprising information. In a recent analysis of the 3,500-year-old remains of the noblewoman Senetnay, found in jars in the Valley of the Kings, researchers found a mixture of ingredients that appear more complex than the era’s common embalming fluids. The complexity of the embalming fluid suggests that the Egyptians might have had connections with distant lands much earlier than previously thought.
Massive benefits of AI come with environmental and human costs. Can AI itself be part of the solution?
The recent explosion of generative artificial intelligence tools like ChatGPT and Dall-E enabled anyone with internet access to harness AI’s power for enhanced productivity, creativity, and problem-solving. With their ever-improving capabilities and expanding user base, these tools proved useful across disciplines, from the creative to the scientific.
But beneath the technological wonders of human-like conversation and creative expression lies a dirty secret—an alarming environmental and human cost.
Last December, when scientists at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory’s National Ignition Facility (NIF) achieved a net energy gain—or ignition—in a fusion reactor, you could practically hear champagne being uncorked. The NIF’s discovery was certainly a “necessary first step,” but the eventual possibility of mass-produced fusion still remains far, far away. All the more reason, then, to celebrate a small but necessary first step for another form of inertial fusion.
Asphalt is used for millions of kilometers of roads globally, as well as sidewalks, roofs, parking lots, and other outdoor areas. It’s used for waterproofing and soundproofing, and in construction and manufacturing. On top of that, it’s cheap, easy to repair, and 100% recyclable. But if you’ve ever smelled fresh asphalt on a newly laid road and imagined your life being shortened by a couple of days, that may not be too far from the truth.
As a journalist trained in the 1990s, automated transcription was—pardon the cliché—a game-changer. After losing days (weeks, months?) of my life to manual transcribing and battling with sub-par speech-to-text apps, I discovered the web-based service Otter.ai in 2018.
The much-hyped image-generating AIs such as Stable Diffusion and DALL-E can whip up original artwork with astonishing speed in response to natural-language text prompts. This is fantastic news for non-artists who want to create images. It’s not such good news for illustrators, artists, and photographers: Not only do the AIs threaten their livelihood, but the image-generating algorithms may have been “trained” by consuming the exact creative work that they now purport to replace.
What are the opportunities—and challenges—to be found when AI squares off with functional MRI data? For one, researchers have discovered, reconstructing speech from brain activity seems newly possible—potentially without surgical interventions or other hardware interfaces. The group’s findings detail the process by which they could decode the gist of perceived and imagined speech, as well as from silent videos, using only functional MRI data.
“Being a blind chemist is not always easy,” says Mona Minkara, Ph.D., a researcher in the bioengineering department of Northeastern University in Boston. A lot of the software she needs in her computational lab wasn’t designed with accessible features. Plus, “many people have doubted my abilities throughout my education.” Students and researchers in STEM who are blind or have low vision are used to finding workarounds for everyday tasks that their sighted contemporaries take for granted—that’s not the problem. The problem is a lack of accessible resources.
Interactive robotics is a relatively new field of study, but in a short time it has moved on from just performing preprogrammed repetitive tasks to more complex activities, including interactions with living creatures. A recent collaboration between the Swiss École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) and University of Graz in Austria demonstrated how effective animal-in-the-loop systems can be, when they developed a robotic system camouflaged as a honeycomb sheet and integrated it into a honeybee colony.
Instead of fully fledged manuscripts, Octopus and ResearchEquals allow researchers to publish individual units of research — from research questions and hypotheses to code, multimedia and presentations. The concept is called modular publishing, and both sites hope to push academics to think beyond conventional publications as the primary unit of scholarly research by breaking the research cycle into pieces.
“Journals do a very good job of disseminating findings,” says Alexandra Freeman at the...
In my 20s and 30s, when I saw myself in the mirror or looked at photographs, the word ‘grotesque’ would come to mind. (I’m almost 50 now, and it still does sometimes.) My mind played tricks on me, telling me I was weird and ugly. I tried to absorb the message of body positivity, that I was just fine as I was, but it felt like a lie to think of myself as beautiful. Then I stumbled upon the idea of body neutrality – that my self-worth isn’t tied to my body at all. Now this was an idea I could get behind. This could make sense. After all, being queer and autistic, not fitting in is my superpower.
In the realm of artificial intelligence, bigger is supposed to be better. Neural networks with billions of parameters power everyday AI-based tools like ChatGPT and Dall-E, and each new large language model (LLM) edges out its predecessors in size and complexity. Meanwhile, at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL), a group of researchers have been working on going small.
Space is a hostile environment, with huge variations in temperature and ionizing radiation that degrades spacecraft surfaces. A research team has now developed a multifunctional, lightweight skin for spacecraft exteriors that provides thermal and radiation protection and can also harvest energy. Unlike existing thermal control systems, it requires no power or bulky add-ons.
Even though they were discovered only about a dozen years ago, MXenes (max-eens) have delighted materials engineers with their versatility. These conductive 2D layered nanomaterials are exceptionally durable, impermeable to electromagnetic radiation, and can store energy faster that materials currently used in batteries and supercapacitors.
Artificial intelligence has already shaved years off research into protein engineering. Now, for the first time, scientists have synthesized proteins predicted by an AI model in the lab and found them to work just as well as their natural counterparts.