Curating the Internet: Science and technology digest for January 20, 2020

in #rsslog2 years ago

Towards artificial neural networks (ANNs) with innate skills; Unusual immune cells found in brains of people with autism; A TED talk argues that drug prices are high because patent reform is needed; SpaceX crew dragon capsule passes its last testing milestone prior to manned flight; and a Steem post makes recommendations for online photo-editing web sites


Fresh and Informative Content Daily: Welcome to my little corner of the blockchain

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Links and micro-summaries from my 1000+ daily headlines. I filter them so you don't have to.

First posted on my Steem blog: SteemIt, SteemPeak*, StemGeeks.

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  1. Neural Networks Can Drive Virtual Racecars Without Learning - Animal and human brains come preconfigured with some inherent skills. For example, horses can walk just a few hours after birth and human infants are naturally attracted to faces. Recently, scientists have been working to develop artificial neural networks that come naturally preloaded with certain useful capabilities. Researchers in this field, known as neural architecture, are working to identify network shapes that make them well-suited for certain tasks. A leading architecture type, the weight agnostic neural network (WANN) has found that unweighted neural networks can be used to quickly begin accomplishing certain tasks such as driving virtual cars or recognizing hand-written characters. In WANNs, the optimization routine awards points for getting the right answer and for being simple. In a recent effort, WANNs were compared against traditional trained neural networks on virtual tasks including driving a car, getting a bipedal robot to walk, and balancing a wheeled cart on a pole. The team found that the WANNs baseline performance was between 2/3 and 4/5 of a trained neural network's performance, and after training the WANNs could perform on par with the more conventional type of neural nets. The work is described in a new paper by Adam Gaier and colleagues. -h/t Communications of the ACM: Artificial Intelligence

  2. Excess of Immune Cells Found in Brains of People with Autism - First observed about four years ago by Matthew Anderson, this article reports on work that supports the possibility of a link between autism and an autoimmune disorder. Four years ago, Anderson noticed that some immune cells, known as lymphocytic cuffs had crossed the "blood-brain barrier" in the brain of a deceased autism patient. After having noticed this in one patient, he went on to notice it in a series of others - along with another related anomaly known as a "bleb", which is a small bubble - commonly found around cancer tumors - that forms after breaking off from a larger structure. After repeated observations, he and colleagues ultimately set up a controlled trial comparing brains of post-mortem autism patients with a control group of normal brains. Consistent with his observations, this research found that the presence of cuffs and blebs was common in the autism patients, but rare in normal brains. As noted above, this difference between the control and experimental group suggests that there may be a link between autism and autoimmune disorders, where the body's immune system is attacking a molecule in the brain that it considers foreign (rightly or wrongly). This sort of link between autism and the immune system has also been implicated in research with mice over a period of many years. -h/t RealClear Science

  3. Why are drug prices so high? Investigating the outdated US patent system - This TED talk by Priti Krishtel was posted in December of 2019 and came across the ted.com RSS feed on January 16. In the talk, Krishtel argues that the American patent system is being used for corporate protectionism in ways that were never imagined or intended by the nation's founders and lawmakers, and that the way it's being used is artificially inflating the prices of life-saving medications. She notes that the framers originally intended patent protection to last for a period of 14 years and that lawmakers only expanded that to 20 years, but in practice, corporations are managing to maintain legally protected monopolies for periods of 40 years and more. She offers five suggestions to return control of the market to the consumers: (i) Don't let inventors extend a patent in response to minor changes; (ii) Change the funding model for the patent office, so that the agency is not dependent on big-business for its livelihood; (iii) Elicit more public participation in the patent system; (iv) Grant legal standing so that the general public can go to court when a patent interferes with their ability to access life-saving medication; and (v) Create stronger oversight by establishing an independent unit that can serve as a public advocate by monitoring patent office activities and reporting to congress. As I was listening to suggestions (iii) and (v), I was imagining a Steem community that could fund oversight and transparency initiatives through the use of blockchain rewards.

  4. SpaceX’s Crew Dragon abort system works—now it’s ready to send astronauts into space - On the heels of Boeing's unsuccessful test of docking an unmanned Starlink crew capsule at the International Space Station (ISS), SpaceX ran its own test. On January 19, the company's Crew Dragon capsule underwent successful testing of its automated abort system. The purpose of the in-flight abort system is to eject the crew capsule away to safety in the event that anything goes wrong with the rocket during flight after launch. The cause of Boeing's failure in December is still under investigation, and it is unclear if the company will be required to complete more testing before launching a crewed mission, but the Jan. 19 SpaceX test marked the end of that firm's planned testing, which means that the first crewed mission to the ISS in a US-built capsule may happen in as soon as a few months. One of the NASA astronauts who is expected to be on that mission is Doug Hurley, and he is quoted in this article saying that the test represented a sort-of a final exam. Here is the livestream of the SpaceX test, with launch at about 18:00 into the video:

  5. STEEM 3 Excellent Online Editors for Photography and Design for 2020 - In this post, @cryptosharon recommends three four online photo editors that can help with graphical efforts in the browser. The recommendations include: (i) PhotoPea; (ii) Gravit Designer; and (iii) BeFunky. According to the post, PhotoPea is the best of the three for photo editing, Gravit Designer is best for overall design, and BeFunky is best for the very specific needs of quickly resizing and compressing photos. A later edit also adds Polarr to the list of options. (A 10% beneficiary setting has been applied to this post for @cryptosharon.)


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