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Researchers Work To Create Common Sense In A Computer – On Science

November 26, 2013

Can a computer have common sense?

Why can’t I make up my mind?

Are you more likely to die from food allergies or murder?

And mushrooms making wind…coming up today… On Science!

Hello and welcome to On Science. I’m Emerald Robinson.

If you’re going to make it in this world, you have to have a little common sense. And that’s exactly what one University is teaching a computer. Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University are working on a system called NEIL, or, Never Ending Image Learning, to recreate common sense in a computer. They are attempting to teach NEIL to think for himself by analyzing and identifying shapes and colors in pictures. It is also slowly discovering connections between objects on its own. For example, NEIL figured out that zebras tend to be found in savannahs. But it did get a couple wrong. Like “rhinos can be a kind of antelope” and “actors can be found in a jail cell.” Well, I wouldn’t say that one is necessarily wrong. What’s next? NEIL will analyze vast numbers of YouTube videos to look for connection between objects. If they could only teach common sense to some humans…

Do I want a brain story next or do I want to talk about the new Kindle? I just don’t know! Sometimes it’s so hard to make up my mind. A University of British Columbia study revealed that region of the brain called the lateral habenula could be responsible for cost-benefit decisions. This part of the brain is typically linked to depression and avoidance behaviors. However researchers found that it’s also important for choosing the right decision when we’re given choices, and without it, we would make decisions randomly. They said these findings “clarify the brain processes involved in the important decisions that we make on a daily basis, from choosing between job offers to deciding which car to buy.” I think that part of my brain is dysfunctional. I’m so indecisive!

So now I will talk about the new Kindle Paperwhite. After having just released the latest Kindle, Amazon is said to be readying for the release of its next generation of the e-reader. The new high-res Kindle Paperwhite will reportedly feature a 300ppi screen, a display that is flush with the front panel rather than recessed, matte glass rather than plastic, and will be lighter to boot. But don’t expect Santa to the leave it in your stocking this Christmas Eve. The new Paperwhite won’t be released until the second quarter of 2014. Guess I’ll have to ask for it for my birthday instead.

Mushrooms just got more interesting. For a long time biologists assumed that mushroom spores just drop into the wind and blow away. But researchers from UCLA recently found out that mushrooms actually create their own wind when the air around them is still in order to ensure propagation. Using high-speed videography and mathematical modeling of spore dispersal, they found that the fungi make their wind by water vapor. The vapor cools locally, which creates convective cells that move the air around in the mushroom’s vicinity. Researchers said “their movements are strong enough to lift the spores clear of the mushroom.”

So it turns out you’re more likely to be murdered than die from a food allergy. Hard to decide if that’s good or bad. Imperial College London looked at 13 worldwide studies and concluded that for any person with a food allergy, the chance of dying from anaphylaxis is 1.81 in a million per year. For kids 0-19 the chance is 3.25 in a million. The chance at being murdered in Europe? Eleven in a million. Researchers said fatal events related to food allergies are really rare and they wanted to put some perspective on the numbers for sufferers of food allergies so they can maintain a good quality of life without worry. Well, I guess that’s one way to look at it!

And that’s it for today’s On Science. See you tomorrow!



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