Your body is home to about 100 trillion bacteria and other microbes, collectively known as your microbiome. Naturalists first became aware of our invisible lodgers in the 1600s, but it wasn’t until the past few years that we’ve become really familiar with them. This recent research has given the microbiome a cuddly kind of fame. We’ve come to appreciate how beneficial our microbes are — breaking down our food, fighting off infections and nurturing our immune system. It’s a lovely, invisible garden we should be tending for our own well-being. But in the journal Bioessays, a team of scientists has raised a creepier possibility. Perhaps our menagerie of germs is also influencing our behavior in order to advance its own evolutionary success — giving us cravings for certain foods, for example. Maybe the microbiome is our puppet master.
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Thousand-strong robot swarm throws shapes, slowly
Engineers in the US have built a swarm of 1,000 little robots that can shuffle into specific formations on command.
Each of the identical robots is given a picture of the required shape, and then they work together to make it happen. It takes up to 12 hours, but then this is the biggest throng of robots ever built and studied in this way. Inspired by biological examples, like cells forming organs or ants building bridges, the work could help develop self-assembling tools and structures. “Each robot is identical and we give them all the exact same program,” explained Dr Michael Rubenstein, the first author of the study, which is published in Science. “The only thing they have to go on, to make decisions, is what their neighbours are doing.” (via BBC News - Thousand-strong robot swarm throws shapes, slowly)
Yolo and binge-watch added to online dictionary
Yolo, an acronym for ‘you only live once’, is among the latest new words added to the Oxford online dictionary. The phrase, along with ‘adorbs’ - meaning cute or adorable, and ‘binge-watch’ - which means to avidly watch something - has been added to oxforddictionaries.com. The website is a catalogue of current definitions of English words as they are used today. Other new inclusions include “tech-savvy” and “clickbait”. The words have been revealed as part of the latest quarterly update of the online dictionary, and give an insight for linguists into current language usage trends. The words will not, for now, appear in the paper-version of the Oxford English Dictionary, which is a more historical account of words, but they could do in the foreseeable future if they continue to be frequently used for years to come. According to the online dictionary’s language monitoring programme, use of the word ‘binge-watch’ increased fourfold in February and tripled in June, based on its average use over the last two years. There were notable spikes in its usage recorded around the latest releases of political drama House Of Cards in February and the US comedy Orange Is The New Black in June 2014.
Other informal terms entered into the online dictionary: bank of mum and dad - a person’s parents regarded as a source of financial assistance or support bro hug - another term for ‘man hug’ and is used to describe two males embracing cray - crazy hench - often used to describe a man who is strong, fit, and having well-developed muscles hot mess - a person or thing that is spectacularly unsuccessful or disordered: mansplain - (Of a man) explain (something) to someone, typically a woman, in a manner regarded as condescending or patronising side-eye - a sidelong glance expressing disapproval or contempt spit-take - an act of suddenly spitting out liquid one is drinking in response to something funny or surprising (via BBC News - Yolo and binge-watch added to online dictionary)
World next door
Nine theories of the multiverse promise everything and more. But if reality is so vast and varied, where do we fit in?
Our understanding of the fundamental nature of reality is changing faster than ever before. Gigantic observatories such as the Hubble Space Telescope and the Very Large Telescope on the Paranal Mountain in Chile are probing the furthest reaches of the cosmos. Meanwhile, with their feet firmly on the ground, leviathan atom-smashers such as the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) under the Franco-Swiss border are busy untangling the riddles of the tiny quantum world. Myriad discoveries are flowing from these magnificent machines. You may have seen Hubble’s extraordinary pictures. You will probably have heard of the ‘exoplanets’, worlds orbiting alien suns, and you will almost certainly have heard about the Higgs Boson, the particle that imbues all others with mass, which the LHC found this year. But you probably won’t know that (if their findings are taken to their logical conclusion) these machines have also detected hints that Elvis lives, or that out there, among the flaming stars and planets, are unicorns, actual unicorns with horns on their noses. There’s even weirder stuff, too: devils and demons; gods and nymphs; places where Hitler won the Second World War, or where there was no war at all. Places where the most outlandish fantasies come true. A weirdiverse, if you will. Most bizarre of all, scientists are now seriously discussing the possibility that our universe is a fake, a thing of smoke and mirrors. All this, and more, is the stuff of the multiverse, the great roller-coaster rewriting of reality that has overturned conventional cosmology in the last decade or two. The multiverse hypothesis is the idea that what we see in the night sky is just an infinitesimally tiny sliver of a much, much grander reality, hitherto invisible. The idea has become so mainstream that it is now quite hard to find a cosmologist who thinks there’s nothing in it. This isn’t the world of the mystics, the pointy-hat brigade who see the Age of Aquarius in every Hubble image. On the contrary, the multiverse is the creature of Astronomers Royal and tenured professors at Cambridge and Cornell. (via Michael Hanlon – On multiverses)
If robots become more cognitively capable than humans, then what happens to … everything?
“In such a future —perhaps a mere fifty years from now — the planet will be completely filled with cognitive and intelligent systems, which will intervene in all aspects of biological life, and humans will be influenced every moment by the decisions these machines make automatically,” Alexandre Pupo writes in a World Future Review report titled Cognitively Everywhere: The Omnipresence of Intelligent Machines and the Possible Social Impact. In the future, machines with brain-like capabilities will be able to know everything about everything using tools already in place, such as the internet, and then will be able to reason and put that knowledge to use like people. Pupo lists a few of the ways that this will have a drastic impact on human civilization.