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By Admin (from 17/07/2011 @ 11:00:48, in en - Science and Society, read 1397 times)

Can you fool the human sense of taste in the world of virtual reality? Up until recently that question was impossible to answer, most because it had not been tested. Most of virtual reality relied on sight and sound. Virtual touch is also a fairly new area of research. Now, with the help of your nose, virtual taste may be on the way.


A virtual reality system, created by a team of researchers at the University of Tokyo, is helping to change that. The system works with smell and sight, to try and manipulate users perceptions of the taste of a cookie. The system works like this. Users are hooked into the system and given a plain cookie. They are then shown an image of one type of cookie and they are exposed to the scent as well. There were seven scent-filled plastic bottles for the researchers to choose from in the testing. Then they are asked to eat the cookie, and tell researchers what type of cookie it is. Thus far, the system has been able to fool people with a fair degree of reliability.

This system, which is being called the Meta Cookie, does have one serious advantage, its texture. Since the users are eating a cookie with no flavor, the food feels like a cookie when users eat it. The system not be able to convince users that they are eating a cookie if they were being served pudding in its place.

The world of virtual reality is growing more 'accurate' every day. Advancements with regards to sense and touch were already enormous, but now it seems the other senses are picking up as well.

Source: PhysOrg


It's code red on Mars. A storm has knocked out our Martian colony's main power supply and the base has been running on backup power from a nearby array of solar panels.

But as the storm continues to rage, the winds tear the solar panels from their anchors, dashing them across the Martian rocks. The colonists can't risk venturing outside in these treacherous conditions. There's nothing else for it: time to deploy the programmable matter.

That scenario is a long way in the future, but the first programmable materials are already on their way. Essentially, programmable matter is a clay-like, electronic material that can shape itself into different functional configurations at your command. The simulated Martian scene, which recently played out at a conference on robotics and automation technology, illustrates its potential. One day some innocuous-looking, amorphous material could, at the touch of a button, turn itself into a tool to repair a broken solar panel, an entirely new solar panel, or even a robot to install it for you. And it is not just future Martian pioneers who will benefit. The stuff could make the Swiss army knife look as inadequate as a "spork", put an end to electronic waste, and even revolutionise medicine.

The idea of programmable matter dates back to 1952, though not under that name. John Von Neumann, the father of the architecture used almost ubiquitously in today's computers, was on the hunt for a mechanism that could ape, in silicon, biology's trick of self-reproduction. But his so-called cellular automata stayed in the realm of mathematical fantasy until 1991, when two engineers, Tommaso Toffoli and Norman Margolus, penned a manifesto calling for experiments on machines based on the principles of cellular automata, which they rechristened programmable matter (Physica D, vol 47, p 263). But even by that point, computers were neither small nor powerful enough to bring the idea of microscopic, self-replicating machines much closer to reality.

That's about to change. The astonishing computing advances of the past 10 years have convinced many engineers that programmable matter's time is at hand. To that end, the engineers working on the problem have defined the criteria programmable matter must meet in order to fulfil Von Neumann's original dream. Most crucially, it needs building blocks that can act individually but also as part of a network. Each of these must have an energy source, some way of receiving and processing information and some physical means of acting on that information. And to get to the stage where it can form itself into something useful, these building blocks need to be very small indeed, and they must be mobilised in enormous numbers.

Natural inspiration

These criteria might seem familiar to biologists: they are the same for every multicellular organism on Earth. Consider the basic piece of biological hardware, the cell. It can grow, obtain fuel and carry out complex operations at the behest of its DNA software, while also operating as part of a much larger whole. If part of the organism is damaged, the cells recognise and process the signals, and effect a repair. And when the organism dies, it disintegrates, breaking down into a molecular buffet that can be reused by other organisms. Electronics don't do such things. A smashed-up cellphone stays broken, and when it becomes obsolete, it cannot recycle itself.

The obvious temptation, then, is to hack actual biological cells to our own advantage. At Harvard University, David Liu and his group started down this avenue. Liu's group used complementary DNA base pairs as a "Velcro" to bind together millimetre-scale synthetic building blocks (Nature, vol 394, p 539).

But there is a problem with turning biological systems into programmable matter - the strength of the bond. "It was not nearly as strong as conventional adhesives such as epoxy," Liu says. "The bond's strong enough to hold a glass of water, maybe, but not much more." And that is why other teams have looked to electronics instead.

But while plastic and metal are strong, electronics has its own limitations. Chief among them is the way its intelligence is distributed: whereas a cell has all its sensing and processing mechanisms contained within, electronic devices have just a few "thinking" parts - microchips - in charge of a whole lot of dumb metal. The key to turning an electronic device into programmable matter is to give it more thinking parts. In fact, the intelligence of the whole should be imbued throughout the parts. "We want a robot's body to also be its brain," says Daniela Rus, a roboticist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who is working on several approaches to programmable matter.

And indeed, some of the first working prototypes of programmable matter consist of groups of scaled-down, reconfigurable robots. Mark Yim of the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, has built a set of programmable, 6-centimetre-wide "CKBots"(pictured, right) that can sense and communicate with each other and work as a team. Some of the cubes have cameras, LED lights and accelerometers, while others have embedded computers, positioning sensors and servo motors that allow them to rotate and manoeuvre.

In 2008, Yim's lab demonstrated the potential of the CKBots by assembling 15 cubes into a crude humanoid shape with two legs and a torso. With a swift kick the modules broke apart and scattered, lying on their sides with their LED lights blinking like the eyes of stunned animals. In reality, though, they were communicating. Each module pulsed a pattern of flashing light that identified its position in the original configuration, and the cameras scanned the scene to catch the signal from their former neighbours. Soon, the clusters began to twitch, flipped up and snaked towards each other. Within a few moments, they had reassumed their humanoid shape and the reconfigured robot took a couple of tentative steps. When Yim and his team uploaded a video of the reassembling robot to the web, it quickly went viral.

Yim's CKBots were largely the tools of choice for the Mars simulation, part of the Planetary Contingency Challenge at last year's International Conference on Robotics and Automation in Anchorage, Alaska. Teams were tasked with designing and assembling a remotely operated robot that could scramble across the uneven surface of Mars, pick up the strewn solar panels and reattach them to their original structure. Unless they brought systems of their own devising, the contestants were supplied with CKBots that they could assemble into modular robots with various appendages. The CKBot-based team that covered the ground and reattached the most solar panels in the time allowed was from Harvard University.

Compared with nature's efforts, though, the CKBot is still a decidedly clunky affair. To create real programmable matter, consisting of thousands or millions of bits that can be moulded and remoulded like clay, those units will need to be far smaller than Yim's.

The solution might just be to start smaller. That's what Seth Goldstein is doing at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, using building blocks he calls claytronic atoms, or catoms (IEEE Computer, vol 38, issue 6, p 99). Rather than designing a fully endowed robotic cube, he has coaxed flat silicon to curl into tiny spheres and cylinders 1 millimetre across or less. The obvious problem with this approach, though, is finding space for the robot's innards.

Fluid movement

Goldstein solved the problem by reducing the robot's insides to circuitry and electrodes printed onto the silicon. The fundamental idea is that when two catoms get near each other, their electrodes become either positively or negatively charged, and that is how they stick to each other. Movement and power comes from an external track that is akin to the third rail of a railroad track, and the electrostatic force it creates attracts the catoms to it. Changing the current running in separate sections along the track drags the catoms along.

Now the team is trying to work out whether they can find a way to get the catoms to move without the track, using only the electrostatic forces between catoms.

Goldstein is dreaming big: hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of these catoms could be deployed at a moment's notice. That could have applications in medicine. "If you could take a pill of this stuff," he says, "it would change its shape inside you, do its job, and then flush itself out." Such applications depend on making the basic unit of programmable matter a lot smaller than a millimetre, and it is as yet not clear how that can be achieved while still allowing them to be smart enough to communicate with each other.

But is that component-to-component coordination strictly necessary? Hod Lipson, a researcher at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, thinks not. Instead of imbuing individual components with the intelligence to adhere to each other, he and his team are manipulating the surrounding environment to coax the components into place. After all, that's how nature does it: biological structures assemble themselves in liquid environments, using random fluid motion as a transit system. Amino acids and proteins might eddy about for several minutes before they find another molecule to which they can attach.

Lipson simply translated that principle. His centimetre-sized cubes are perforated, waterproof computers with a valve on each face. Submerged in water, each cube can autonomously open and close any of its valves. The flow of water through one free-floating cube will subtly pull a second cube toward it. When the second cube latches onto the first, both automatically open the correct valves that will form a new path for the water to flow through. This attracts more and more cubes. Using this method, the team was able to assemble a structure of 10 cubes (IEEE Transactions on Robotics, vol 26, p 518). They have similarly experimented with assembling structures out of 500-micrometre silicon tiles (Applied Physics Letters, vol 93, p 254105). "Ultimately, we want to find ways to assemble a million millimetre-scale cubes," Lipson says. "So we still have some way to go."

But there's another option for programmable matter, and it's a bit of a radical departure. Perhaps programmable matter doesn't need to consist of separate bits, says Rus. She and her colleague Robert Wood, at Harvard University, have taken their inspiration from origami to reconceive programmable matter as a single, rigid sheet with inlaid circuitry and predefined creases (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, vol 107, p 12441). This approach bypasses the tricky problem of getting large numbers of robots to talk to each other.

Each crease is created from a shape-memory alloy - a metal that "remembers" its original shape - which bends when electricity flows through the sheet. The sheets are identical, consisting of interconnected triangles, but different programming induces them to adopt one of a number of predetermined shapes. So far, the shapes are small and fairly rudimentary, but it's a good start. Eventually, the researchers hope the shapes could be determined by stickers that would contain programming instructions that direct electricity through the desired circuitry. So, for example, applying a "tripod" sticker would cause the sheet to fold itself into the shape of a tripod. "If you had a stack of smart sheets in your backpack, you could grab one and make it turn into anything on demand," says Rus.

Some of these approaches might not see applications for decades. That's why some researchers, like Neil Gershenfeld of MIT, are focusing instead on a parallel research effort called functional digital materials, which may deliver benefits in the shorter term. Like programmable matter, these building blocks can be assembled into relatively complex structures. Unlike programmable matter, however, they can't do it themselves, instead requiring a machine to assemble them. Gershenfeld's mechanism is a cross between a 3D printer and a rapid-prototyping machine. The machine can assemble complex structures out of different building blocks, printing, for example, a cellphone's circuit board out of lego-like conductors and insulators. But here's the kicker. After the machine has created a structure, it can disassemble it back into the original constituent bits, and then reuse those parts to make something new. "It's just like when a plant dies in the forest, and its components turn to mulch," he says. "It's going to mean the end of trash."

Gershenfeld predicts that his prototypes will be mass-produced within about five years. Commercial applications of programmable matter, by contrast, are at least 20 years away. Nonetheless, he says, all the research now under way is solving different parts of what were once thought fundamental roadblocks. Catoms are small; shape-memory sheets can create specific designs; fluid cubes can self-assemble. One thing is for sure, however. The precursor fields to programmable matter - including functional digital materials and reconfigurable robotics - will soon bear fruit. For reconfigurable robots in particular, real-life applications aren't far off: Yim is already using CKBots to build search-and-rescue robots for operations that are too dangerous for humans.

Meanwhile, competitors are flexing their muscles for a rerun of last year's modular robotics competition in Alaska, which this year will be in Shanghai. And here's another sign that the field is advancing: unlike in previous years, when most contenders had to be furnished with CKBots, all the contestaVnts are now expected to bring their own robotic modules.

Source: NewScientist


The study has just been published online in the latest edition of the top international journal Development and Psychopathology.

Common stressful events included financial and relationship problems, difficult pregnancy, job loss and issues with other children and major life stressors were events such as a death in the family.

Lead author, Registered Psychologist Dr Monique Robinson, said while previous studies have shown a link between stress and poorer outcomes, this study goes further by analysing the timing, amount and kinds of events that lead to poorer outcomes.

"What we have found is that it is the overall number of stresses that is most related to child behaviour outcomes," Dr Robinson said. "Two or fewer stresses during pregnancy are not associated with poor child behavioural development, but as the number of stresses increase to three or more, then the risks of more difficult child behaviour increase."

Dr Robinson said the actual type of stress experienced was of less importance than the number of stresses, and there was no specific risk associated with the timing of these stress events – early or late – in the pregnancy.

The analysis was undertaken on data from Western Australia's long-term cohort Raine Study, which recruited nearly 3000 pregnant women and recorded life stress events experienced at 18 and 34 weeks of pregnancy, as well as collecting sociodemographic data. The mother's experience of life stress events and child behavioural assessments were also recorded when the children were followed-up ages 2, 5, 8, 10, and 14 years using a questionnaire called the Child Behaviour Checklist.

The percentage of women with more than two stress events was 37.2%, while the percentage with six or more was 7.6%.

Dr Robinson said the study should not make pregnant women stress further about the stress in their lives.

"These types of analyses look at overall population risk, and of course individuals can have very differing responses," Dr Robinson said.

"Regardless of exposure to stress in the womb, a nurturing environment after birth can provide the child with enormous potential to change their course of development. This is known as "developmental plasticity", which means that the brain can adapt and change as the child grows with a positive environment.

"The important message here is in how we as a community support pregnant women. If we think about people who lead stressful lives, they are most often linked with socioeconomic disadvantage. This research shows we should be targeting these women with support programs to ensure the stress does not negatively affect the unborn child."

Dr Robinson said further research is needed to understand the mechanisms behind how stress in pregnancy affects the developing baby, including the impact of maternal stress hormones, attachment and parenting issues and socioeconomic factors.

Provided by Research Australia



The researchers’ work has implications for future quantum devices that require smoothly-guided matter waves, such as atom interferometers which need to sensitively measure the earth’s gravitational field for geo-exploration. Their paper is published today in Nature Communications.

“In an optical fibre, many modes of light can be conducted simultaneously, and they can interfere to produce a speckled pattern of light,” said team member Professor Ken Baldwin from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Quantum-Atom Optics at ANU.

“We have shown that when atoms in a vacuum chamber are guided inside a laser light beam, they too can create a speckle pattern - an image of which we have captured for the first time”.


Artist's impression of the speckle pattern created by a multimode light beam (top, red), and the image measured in this experiment created by a multimode beam of atoms (top, blue). Source: Dr Tim Wetherell, ANU.

The team trapped a cloud of cold helium atoms at the focus of an intense laser beam pointed downwards at the imaging system, and then gradually turned down the laser intensity until the speckled image appeared. The work was done with PhD students Sean Hodgman and Andrew Manning.

“We then made the atoms even colder,” says team leader Dr Andrew Truscott, “until they behaved more like waves than particles, forming a single quantum wave called a Bose-Einstein condensate (BEC).  When the BEC was loaded into the guide, the speckle pattern disappeared, showing that just one mode was being transmitted – the single quantum wave.”

The physicists demonstrated that by measuring the arrival time of the atoms on the imaging system, they were able to distinguish between the multimode (speckled image) guiding, and the single-mode (smooth image) guiding.

“Measurements for the multi-mode beam showed the atoms arriving in groups as a result of their interference – so-called atom bunching,” said team member Dr Robert Dall. “However, the BEC represents just a single quantum mode with no interference, so when we guided the BEC - we saw no bunching.”

The guiding behaviour agreed with a theoretical model developed by team member Mattias Johnsson.  “We have shown that atoms can be guided in a laser beam of light, with the same properties as light guided in an optical fibre made of glass,” said Dr Johnsson.

Source: PhysOrg


The EU project UpWind started five years ago with an ambitious plan: more than 120 wind scientists' efforts and a budget of 23 million Euro were to provide the answer to the big question: Is it possible to build a 20 MW wind turbine using the methods and materials we know today? One single wind turbine of this type in the North Sea would provide electricity for 15,000 to 20,000 dwellings.

Is it technically possible and economically feasible?

There are 16,000-20,000 components in a wind turbine. The researchers focused on the main components in wind turbines to find answers to two fundamental questions: Is it technically possible to build a 20 megawatt wind turbine? Is it economically feasible to build it?

"The overall conclusion we can draw from the UpWind project is that if you built a 20 MW wind turbine based on existing technologies and methods, it will be 15-20 percent more expensive than today's wind turbines. I find that far from discouraging, for immediately I would expect that such a simple upscaling would give even higher energy prices, "says Peter Hjuler Jensen, Risø DTU, who has been in charge of the project.

An intelligent wind turbine blade is one of the solutions

Risø DTU and DTU Mechanical Engineering has significantly contributed in the development of aeroelastic design methods for wind turbines of up to 20 MW. Aeroelastic methods are used to calculate the wind turbine's dynamic response to turbulence in the wind. In the UpWind project, Risø DTU and DTU Mechanical Engineering studied aeroelastic methods, materials, management and regulation and many other technologies to be developed for designing a 20 M wind turbine.

Risø DTU has contributed very significantly to UpWind through the development of smart rotor blades with trailing edge-regulation. That means that the trailing edge of the blade can move up and down like flaps on an airplane.

"We have worked on developing several different types of sensor systems such as pitot tubes which are also used to measure the wind speed of aircrafts. Should we introduce these innovations to existing wind turbines, they would probably be more expensive, but if they are implemented on very large turbines the savings from load reductions probably would be competitive. Our conclusion is that upscaling opens up for new technologies, "says Peter Hjuler Jensen.

Various types of movable trailing edges for turbine blades and different mechanisms for activating the trailing edge movement have been tested, and the aerodynamic properties of the movable trailing edge have been studied in wind tunnels.

Laser technology to measure wind conditions

The second area in which Risø DTU has been making a substantial contribution to UpWind, is in the development of LIDAR technologies. A LIDAR measures the properties of the wind by means of laser beams. When UpWind started, Risø was the only research institution with a prototype of LIDAR to measure wind speed and with applications in wind energy research.

"During the five years of the UpWind project we have succeeded in developing the technology from this first prototype to a total of more than 200 LIDARs, of which 40 have been calibrated at Risø DTUs test station in Høvsøre in the western, more windy part of Denmark. LIDARs has now been developed into a stage where they easily can compete with the traditional anemometers used to measure wind speeds, and in amazingly short time, we managed to start using this new technology, says Peter Hjuler Jensen.

"You can imagine the difference between the two methods by thinking of a football field. With an anemometer you can measure the wind conditions in an area corresponding to the dot in the middle of the football field. The LIDAR is able to measure the wind on the whole football field in one go," says Peter Hjuler Jensen. It will open up new opportunities to gain insights into the wind turbulence, which affects wind turbines. Risø DTU has further explored the possibility of placing the LIDAR in the hub of a wind turbine, where it will be possible to let the LIDAR regulate the trailing edge. This would reduce fatigue and extreme loads on wind turbines.

Source: ScienceDaily


Japan-based Teijin Limited has announced that it has established mass production technologies for carbon fiber reinforced plastic (CFRP) that reduces the cycle time for molding automobile frames to less than one minute. In other words, by the time you're done reading this post (or maybe this and another one), Teijin could have made you a lightweight car frame.

Teijin demonstration vehicle

This achievement, the company says, represents one of the most significant breakthroughs in the CFRP industry, calling it a massive step forwards to the adoption of the lightweight, fuel-saving carbon fiber composite in mass-produced vehicles.

To demonstrate its cutting-edge technology, Teijin has developed an electric concept car featuring its thermoplastic CFRP. The concept's frame weighs in at a mere 47 kilograms (104 pounds), which is approximately one fifth the weight of a conventional automobile frame, according to Teijin. The battery-powered four-seater is capable of hitting speeds of up to 37 miles per hour and can cruise along for 62 miles on a full charge. The concept embodies Teijin's ultimate vision of a super-lightweight, CFRP-framed electric city car of the future.

Source: Autoblog Green


We all make sure we've got our keys, wallet and phone before we head out the door, but more often than not, we are carrying around things that are better left at home. Some items we carry on a daily basis can be virtually impossible to replace, and others may leave us at risk for identity theft in the event of loss. We checked in with the personal finance experts at LearnVest to find the top 10 things you shouldn't carry in your purse or wallet.

Social Security Card

"You may carry it around thinking you need a back-up source of ID, but these days you don't really need it," says Maria Lin, editor in chief at Learnvest. If your Social Security card gets in the wrong hands, someone could open a credit card, apply for a loan, or even buy a car with the information. It's nine digits, just memorize it.

Your Passport

If you're traveling internationally, of course you can't leave your passport at home, but you can leave it in the hotel safe. When you are abroad, make a photocopy of your passport to have in your wallet for identification along with your driver's license. "If you lose your passport or get mugged in a foreign country, it's such a horrible hassle," says Lin. "You have to go to the embassy, and it's a vacation nightmare." If you're traveling in the U.S., use your driver's license instead. "Your passport is such a primo document for your identity, if someone gets a hold of it, you can really put yourself at risk for identity theft," says Lin.

Passwords/Pass codes

Although most PIN numbers are only four digits long, some people still write them down so they don't forget. "If you store any type of ATM password or even a code for your home alarm in your wallet, you have basically gifted a thief with access to your life," says Lin. If you absolutely can't remember important pass codes, store them digitally on a password-protected phone, but never write them down and leave them in your wallet or purse

A Non-Password Protected Phone

Today, many people have smart phones that allow them instant access to bank accounts, PayPal accounts, medical records, and more. Even if your phone only accesses e-mail, a thief could easily search for banking or ATM passwords or addresses, according to Lin. "Think about all the things you have digitally stored on your phone. You have to have it behind password protection. This way a thief can still erase your phone's memory and use it for themselves, but they won't have access to your data."

Your Checkbook

"As innocuous as it seems, your checkbook has your bank account number and routing number on it, your address, and possibly imprints of your signature," says Lin. Lin says that if you know you're going to need to write a check one day, peel off one check out of your book and take it with you. If you know you're going to need to write multiple checks in one day, go ahead and take your checkbook, but don't get into the habit of carrying it around with you all the time, Lin says. "You want to prevent someone's ability to just start writing out your blank checks and cashing them."

Too Many Credit Cards

"A lot of people put all their cards in their wallet and carry them with them at all times," says Lin. "But if your wallet gets lost or stolen, that means you're going to have to sit and cancel every single one, and wait a week without any credit cards before you receive a replacement." Only carry the one or two cards you use on a daily basis and a backup, and leave others at home. Also make sure you keep photocopies of the front and back of each card at home, Lin advises. The 1-800 number to call and report a lost or stolen card is very often on the back of your card -- which doesn't do you a lot of good once the card is no longer in your possession.

Too Much Cash

Lin offers the following rule of thumb when it comes to carrying cash: Bring only as much with you as you're willing to lose. "It's good to have a little cash on you at all times for emergencies, but you don't want to carry so much that you're going to feel a real hit if your wallet gets stolen." For people on a "cash diet," Lin recommends bringing only as much cash to cover the day's expenses.

Gift Cards/Certificates

"A lot of people carry these around thinking, 'I never know when I'm going to be passing this store,' but chances are, you're going to forget about it anyway, and if your wallet gets stolen, it's one of the first thing thieves are going to use," Lin says. Gift cards and gift certificates are just like cash -- they don't require ID for use. "Try to leave it at home and take it with you only when you are consciously going to shop at that store," Lin says. "Make it a special excursion; it's a treat to have free money to spend."

Jewelry or USB Devices

"It may sound silly, but if you're changing earrings or heading from a business meeting, it's very possible you may forget and toss these things in the zipper compartment of your wallet," says Lin. USB devices can be bad news in the hands of thieves if they contain confidential files. "It would be horrible to get your wallet stolen any day, but if you're also losing your grandmother's earrings or a presentation you've been working on for months, it's even worse!"


Sometimes receipts can have your credit card information on them, as well as your signature, which thieves could do a lot of damage with. Additionally, if you've just purchased a big-ticket item like a new computer or jewelry, you may need that receipt for warranty purposes. "If you're planning to use your receipts for expense purposes at work, those few hundred dollars of business receipts can just vanish and your employer might not be so understanding," says Lin. "Get in the habit of taking out your receipts every night instead of carting them around with you."

Source: - Author: Kathryn Tuggle


They hope that in the near future computers will be able to communicate among themselves, recognize threats, and be able to monitor their own health -- just like the cells inside our bodies.

"We want the machines to take a more active part in their own protection," said Bruce McConnell, senior counselor for cyber security at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. "We want to use their brains to protect themselves, but always in the context of the policies of the system administrators and owners."


McConnell is co-author of a new DHS white paper, "Enabling Distributed Security in Cyberspace: Building a Healthy and Resilient Cyber Ecosystem with Automated Collective Action."

No, it's not the dawn of Skynet. But it may be a new way of looking at how computers can be protected, and at the broader questions of privacy versus security. McConnell and others point to a marked increase in cyber-threats from organized crime, terrorists, and nation-states looking for key military, financial and other classified intelligence.

The paper imagines a "healthy ecosystem" of computers that collaborate to fight threats, adapt rapidly, and identify and defeat problems. Right now, computers are not very good at catching things that they haven't seen before, McConnell said. In contrast, the human immune system has evolved to fight intruders that it doesn't recognize. "It says: "This is not me. Maybe I need to send something down there to take a look at it, and maybe quarantine it.'" McConnell said.

McConnell says a first step would be to get computers to recognize and react to threats automatically. "Right now it's manual," he said, meaning that a human manager has to contact another human manager via e-mail to warn of a virus or other threat. Ideally, that notification would be done instantly between machines at different government agencies.

Some experts are already working on this kind of interoperability on a small scale. One of the biggest obstacles in getting computers closer to working by themselves is figuring out a better way to authenticate interactions, according to Ross Hartman, vice president for cyber-security services at Science Applications International Corp (SAIC).

"Computers are limited by their programming," Hartman said. "If it doesn't model the known versus the unknown, they can't tell the self from the other."

Hartman says experts are looking at new models of "nature-inspired defense" as computer threats become a greater security problem for government agencies and a bigger cost to industry.

"The threat is growing," Hartman said. "There are more incidents and they are becoming more sophisticated. The latest buzzword is 'advanced persistent threats.' These are sufficiently advanced methods that are difficult to detect and take a long time to discern."

Hartman said the DHS paper is a positive response to threats that are on the rise, and is provoking discussion among cyber-security experts.

Another hurdle faced by computer experts in designing collaborative systems of either individual devices or networked computers is that of privacy. How much information should be shared in the name of security?

Angelos Stavros is a computer scientist at George Mason University. He says the more that computers share information in order to deter threats, the more individual privacy is reduced.

"Although we want the cell to be curable, we want it to have our private personality that cannot be wiped or automatically checked," Stavros said. "What is an attack? It is often in the eye of the beholder."

Author: Eric Niiler; Source: Discovery News


Even people who show a clear treatment response with antidepressant medications continue to experience symptoms like insomnia, sadness and decreased concentration, researchers at UT Southwestern Medical Center have found after analyzing data from the largest study on the treatment of depression.

"Widely used antidepressant medications, while working overall, missed these symptoms. If patients have persistent residual symptoms, these individuals have a high probability of incomplete recovery," said Dr. Shawn McClintock, assistant professor of psychiatry and lead author of the analysis available in the April print issue of the Journal of Clinical Psychopharmacology.

UT Southwestern researchers tracked a wide range of symptoms of depression – including sadness, suicidal thoughts, and changes in sleep patterns, appetite/weight, concentration, outlook and energy/fatigue – at the start of the trial and at the end of the antidepressant treatment course.

Research by Dr. Shawn McClintock, assistant professor of psychiatry at UT Southwestern

Dr. McClintock's research used data from the Sequenced Treatment Alternatives to Relieve Depression, or STAR*D study, the largest ever on the treatment of major depressive disorder and considered a benchmark in the field of depression research. The six-year, National Institute of Mental Health-sponsored study initially included more than 4,000 patients with major depressive disorder from clinics across the country. Dr. Madhukar Trivedi, professor of psychiatry at UT Southwestern, was co-principal investigator of STAR*D and an author on this paper that analyzed data.

All responders reported between three to 13 residual depressive symptoms, and 75 percent of participants reported five symptoms or more.

Some of their symptoms included insomnia that occurs in the middle of the night (nearly 79 percent); sadness (nearly 71 percent); and decreased concentration and decision-making skills (nearly 70 percent). Moderately severe midnoctural insomnia was reported in nearly 60 percent of participants – more than twice as frequently as other symptoms.

Thoughts of suicide rarely persisted or emerged during treatment, researchers found.

"Some people fear that antidepressant medication increases thoughts of suicide," Dr. McClintock said. "This provided counterevidence of that."

Researchers in the STAR*D trial found that only 33 percent of people go into remission in the first 12 weeks of treatment with an antidepressant medication known as an SSRI, or selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor. Of the available antidepressant medications, SSRIs are the most commonly prescribed for the treatment of depression.

Individuals on SSRIs often still exhibit symptoms of depression. For one of first times, researchers sought with this analysis in a large sample to identify residual symptoms of the disease and whether these symptoms began before or during treatment.

Dr. McClintock and colleagues looked at data from the 2,876 STAR*D participants who completed the first phase of the trial – treatment with an SSRI for 12 weeks. About 15 percent of those participants, or 428 people, responded to treatment with no remission. Response was defined as a 50 percent decrease in severity of depression. The average age of participants was 40, 73 percent were white, and 66 percent were female.

Each year about 19 million adults in America struggle with depression. People with depression are often at increased risk of heart disease, diabetes, asthma and obesity. Depression cost the U.S. an estimated $83 billion a year.

The next step, Dr. McClintock said, will be to develop more targeted antidepressant therapies to decrease depressive symptoms, and to understand better the association between depression and concentration.

Dr. Trivedi said, "Our findings do suggest that the use of measurement-based care techniques to identify and target residual depressive symptoms is essential to help patients return to normal function and recover from depression in the long term."


Other UT Southwestern researchers involved in this paper were Dr. Mustafa Husain, professor of psychiatry, internal medicine, and neurology and neurotherapeutics; Dr. David Morris, assistant professor of psychiatry; and Dr. Diane Warden, associate professor of psychiatry. Dr. A. John Rush, formerly of UT Southwestern Medical Center, now at NUS Graduate Medical School in Singapore, is co-principal investigator of STAR*D and an author of this analysis. Researchers from New York State Psychiatric Institute; Columbia University; the University of Pittsburgh; Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard University; and the University of California, Los Angeles also participated.

The study was funded by the National Institute of Mental Health.



The Dutch are well known for their ubiquitous bike lanes, to the point where Amsterdam is neck and neck with Copenhagen for the title of most bike-loving capital in Europe. Now, Denmark will have to come up with something big to match the latest plan from the Netherlands - the installation of solar panels in roads, starting with bike lanes.


Talk about the efficient use of space: if you're going to have roads (and hopefully you'll have bike lanes), why not put that space to work producing energy? Called the Solaroad, the project is the brainchild of Dutch research firm TNO. The idea is pretty straightforward: a layer of concrete forms the road itself. A centimeter thick layer of crystalline silicon solar cells is laid on top, and covered by a layer of toughened glass. The energy potential: 50kWh per square meter per year, which can then be used to power street lighting, traffic systems and households.

But it's still an idea in development, which is why TNO, working with the Province of North Holland, the consulting firm Ooms Averhorn Group and the tech firm Intech, is starting with a small-scale pilot program in the town of Krommenie, outside of Amsterdam. Scheduled for installation next year, the first Solaroad will hopefully allow its developers better implement many more throughout the country.

Maybe it'll even make it to the US one day- though in today's political climate, this probably costly project is unlikely to get much support in Congress. Well, we can dream.

Source: TreeHugger

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