An argument that we may be the only intelligent life in the universe; A new blockchain-based social media network aims to take down facebook & google; DeepMind AI is better than humans at deciphering ancient tablets, but its most effective use may be in collaboration with humans; A new study may overturn textbook theory about bats and moths; and a Steem review of a study evaluating the effect of ashwagandha on stress
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- Evolution tells us we might be the only intelligent life in the universe - In this essay, Nick Longrich argues that the history of evolution demonstrates that intelligent life emerged from a chain of improbable events that were so unlikely that the entire sequence may be unique in history. Longrich points out that evolution has independently duplicated certain features of life, such as the streamlined shape of dolphins, the pouches of marcupials, and the jaw in a variety of animals. However, other - more substantial - events were unique, happening only once throughout all of history. These include the emergence of life, the creation of complex animals, and the cycle of photosynthesis and respiration that keeps the atmosphere in balance. Longrich argues that the extreme rarity of these individual events, then combined into a sequence, makes it likely that it only happened once in the universe. One question that came to me while reading the essay is, "How long did it take, relative to the age of the Solar System?" According to this, the solar system is 4.6 billion years old, and it will last for another 4.5-5.5 billion years. So the emergence of complex life could happen twice at the observed pace, just in our solar system. And I suspect that some other solar systems have longer lifespans. So in all, I'm not persuaded, although Longrich offers a rebuttal to that line of reasoning by pointing out that the anthropic principle makes it impossible to know whether the pace that we observe is typical or a statistical outlier throughout the Universe. h/t RealClear Science
- A Yale professor and Goldman Sachs veteran are teaming up on an eccentric new blockchain-powered social network to try to make Facebook irrelevant - The Revolution Populi social media network is slated to launch early next year, along with an initial coin offering (ICO). The platform will be run by Yale's David Gelernter and Goldman Sachs' Rob Rosenthal. The platform will be built on blockchain, enabling users to own their own data, and to sell it to marketers through the use of smart contracts. They are hoping that competition from their site, and countless others, will eliminate the stranglehold that Facebook and Google currently hold on Internet advertising data.
- DeepMind AI beats humans at deciphering damaged ancient Greek tablets - The AI has been set up as a neural network, and trained on data from 35,000 relics containing 3 million words. It is now better than humans at filling in the gaps between words, but is most effective when used as a tool to offer a human researcher a list of possible words to close the gaps. h/t Communications of the ACM
- A Textbook Evolutionary Story About Moths and Bats Is Wrong - The standard theory for the origin of moths' ears has been that they evolved in an evolutionary arms race with bats. The bat evolved echolocation, which enabled it to find flying insects by sound, so moths evolved ears to hear the predators and respond to the threat. Now, a new study led by Akito Kawahara finds that moths' ears evolved before bats' echolocation, so that theory must be wrong. Jesse Barber participated in the study, and notes that the new work means that most of the introductions to his previous papers have been wrong. The paper reveals a new family tree for moths and butterflies, where ears evolved independently nine different times. Most of those times were 78 to 92 million years ago, well before bats evolved echolocation, about 50 million years ago. There are exceptions where ears evolved after 50 million years, and those may have been driven by bats and echolocation, but for most of them, the team says they don't know what the driving force was behind the evolution of ears. h/t RealClear Science
- STEEM Is Ashwagandha Effective at Relieving Stress? [A review of a double-blind clinical trial] - According to this post by @alchemage, ashwagandha is one of the oldest known herbs for the treatment of stress, but it has still not been thoroughly studied. This post reviews a recent double-blind study that was conducted to evaluate its efficacy. The study, on 60 participants, was only the 7th one ever done on the topic, and it found a 41% reduction in a stress evaluation for participants who consumed ashwagandha capsules, as compared with 24% in a placebo group. It also found a reduction in stress biomarkers, including Cortisol and DHEA-S. Related: Every time I see people write about stress, I think of this TED talk by Kelly McGonigal, that I first watched some number of years ago.
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