Dan the baboon sits in front of a computer screen. The letters BRRU pop up. With a quick and almost dismissive tap, the monkey signals it’s not a word. Correct. Next comes, ITCS. Again, not a word. Finally KITE comes up.
He pauses and hits a green oval to show it’s a word. In the space of just a few seconds, Dan has demonstrated a mastery of what some experts say is a form of pre-reading and walks away rewarded with a treat of dried wheat.
Dan is part of new research that shows baboons are able to pick up the first step in reading — identifying recurring patterns and determining which four-letter combinations are words and which are just gobbledygook.
The study shows that reading’s early steps are far more instinctive than scientists first thought and it also indicates that non-human primates may be smarter than we give them credit for.
“They’ve got the hang of this thing,” said Jonathan Grainger, a French scientist and lead author of the research.
Baboons and other monkeys are good pattern finders and what they are doing may be what we first do in recognizing words.
It’s still a far cry from real reading. They don’t understand what these words mean, and are just breaking them down into parts, said Grainger, a cognitive psychologist at the Aix-Marseille University in France.
In 300,000 tests, the six baboons distinguished between real and fake words about three-out-of-four times, according to the study published in Thursday’s journal Science.
The four-year-old Dan, the star of the bunch and about the equivalent age of a human teenager, got 80 percent of the words right and learned 308 four-letter words.
The baboons are rewarded with food when they press the right spot on the screen: A blue plus sign for bogus combos or a green oval for real words.
Even though the experiments were done in France, the researchers used English words because it is the language of science, Grainger said.
The key is that these animals not only learned by trial and error which letter combinations were correct, but they also noticed which letters tend to go together to form real words, such as SH but not FX, said Grainger. So even when new words were sprung on them, they did a better job at figuring out which were real.
Grainger said a pre-existing capacity in the brain may allow them to recognize patterns and objects, and perhaps that’s how we humans also first learn to read.
The study’s results were called “extraordinarily exciting” by another language researcher, psychology professor Stanislas Dehaene at the College of France, who wasn’t part of this study. He said Grainger’s finding makes sense. Dehaene’s earlier work says a distinct part of the brain visually recognizes the forms of words. The new work indicates this is also likely in a non-human primate.
This new study also tells us a lot about our distant primate relatives. …
Archive for April 13th, 2012
Posted by Xeno on April 13, 2012
Posted by Xeno on April 13, 2012
For more than a decade, physicists have been developing quantum mechanical methods to pass secret messages without fear that they could be intercepted. But they still haven’t created a true quantum network — the fully quantum-mechanical analog to an ordinary telecommunications network in which an uncrackable connection can be forged between any two stations or “nodes” in a network. Now, a team of researchers in Germany has built the first true quantum link using two widely separate atoms. A complete network could be constructed by combining many such links, the researchers say.
“These results are a remarkable achievement”, says Andrew Shields, applied physicist and assistant managing director at Toshiba Research Europe Ltd. in Cambridge, U.K., who was not involved in the work. “In the past we have built networks that can communicate quantum information, but convert it into classical form at the network switching points. [The researchers] report preliminary experiments towards forming a network in which the information remains in quantum form.”
Quantum communications schemes generally take advantage of the fact that, according to quantum theory, it’s impossible to measure the condition or “state” of a quantum particle without disturbing the particle. For example, suppose Alice wants to send Bob a secret message. She can do the encrypting in a traditional way, by writing out the message in the form of a long binary number and zippering it together in a certain mathematical way with a “key,” another long stream of random 0s and 1s. Bob can then use the same key to unscramble the message.
But first, Alice must send Bob the key without letting anybody else see it. She can do that if she encodes the key in single particles of light, or photons. Details vary, but schemes generally exploit the fact that an eavesdropper, Eve, cannot measure the individual photons without altering their state in some way that Alice and Bob can detect by comparing notes before Alice encodes and sends her message. Such “quantum key distribution” has already been demonstrated in networks, such as a large six-node network in Vienna in 2008, and various companies offer quantum key distribution devices.
Such schemes suffer a significant limitation, however. Although the key is passed from node to node in a quantum fashion, it must be read out and regenerated at each node in the network, leaving the nodes vulnerable to hacking. So physicists would like to make the nodes of the network themselves fully quantum mechanical—say, by forming them out of individual atoms.
According to quantum mechanics, an atom can have only certain discrete amounts of energy depending on how its innards are gyrating. Bizarrely, an atom can also be in two different energy states—call them 0 and 1—at once, although that uncertain two-states-at-once condition “collapses” into one state or the other as soon as the atom is measured. “Entanglement” takes weirdness to its absurd extreme. Two atoms can be entangled so that both are in an uncertain two-ways-at-once state, but their states are perfectly correlated. For example, if Alice and Bob share a pair of entangled atoms and she measures hers and finds it in the 1 state, then she’ll know that Bob is sure to find his in the 1 state, too, even before he measures it.
Obviously, Alice and Bob can generate a shared random key by simply entangling and measuring their atoms again and again. Crucially, if entanglement can be extended to a third atom held by Charlotte, then Alice and Charlotte can share a key. In that case, if Eve then tries to detect the key by surreptitiously measuring Bob’s atom, she’ll mess up the correlations between Alice’s and Charlotte’s atoms in a way that will reveal her presence, making the truly quantum network unhackable, at least in principle.
But first, physicists must entangle widely separated atoms. Now, Stephan Ritter of the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics in Garching, Germany, and colleagues have done just that, entangling two atoms in separate labs on opposite sides of the street, as they report online today in Nature.
As simple as this may sound, the researchers still needed a complete lab room full of lasers, optical elements, and other equipment for each node. Each atom sat between two highly reflective mirrors 0.5 mm apart, which form an “optical cavity.” By applying an external laser to atom A, Ritter’s team caused a photon emitted by that atom to escape from its cavity and travel through a 60-meter-long optical fiber to the cavity across the street. When the photon was absorbed by atom B, the original quantum information from the first atom was transferred to the second. By starting with just the right state of the first atom, the researchers could entangle the two atoms. According to the researchers, the entanglement could in principle be extended to a third atom, which makes the system scalable to more than two nodes.
Posted by Xeno on April 13, 2012
Heads or bones? Invisible during the day, the Pachyrhinosaurus’s skeleton glows in the dark. (Credit: Royal Canadian …
The mint’s latest collectible coin features a dinosaur whose skeleton shines at night from beneath its scaly hide.
It’s actually two images on one face, which could be a world’s first. The other side depicts Queen Elizabeth. Her Majesty does not glow in the dark.
Made of cupronickel, the coin has a face value of 25 cents but is much larger than a regular Canuck quarter.
It shows an artist’s rendering of Pachyrhinosaurus lakustai, a 4-ton, 26-foot dinosaur discovered in Alberta in 1972. It’s the first in a four-coin series of photo-luminescent prehistoric creatures.
The mint says the skeleton can best be seen after the coin is exposed to sunlight, or to fluorescent or incandescent light for 30-60 seconds, adding that the luminescence won’t fade with time. …
The glowing novelty is a first for the mint, but sadly it won’t be for general circulation.
The dino’s mintage is limited to 25,000, and collectors who want to count their dinosaurs at night will have to pony up to the tune of $29.95. Canadian, of course. It launches April 16.
The shiny Pachyrhinosaurus may not be as cool as New Zealand’s Star Wars, but at least it can keep you company in the dark.
Posted by Xeno on April 13, 2012
POLICE have been inundated with calls about loud bang, believed to be a series of sonic booms.
Fire crews are also investigating the source of the noise and Oxfordshire Fire and Rescue are liaising with neighbouring counties.
Thames Valley Police duty inspector Phil Rogers said people have reported the noise, from Chipping Norton, Burford, Banbury and North Newington, right out to Swindon and Warwick.
He said: “There have been no reports of any casualties or damage.
“We believe it could be a sonic boom from a supersonic aircraft.”
He added that he believed it to be more than a single incident as the reports were so far spread.
Some have reported the noise was so loud it ‘shook their house’.
Comment: ittlebirdblue2012 says… 7:02pm Thu 12 Apr 12
Posted by Xeno on April 13, 2012
More than 30% of the one million heart attack victims in the United States each year die before seeking medical attention. Although widespread education campaigns describe the warning signs of a heart attack, the average time from the onset of symptoms to arrival at the hospital has remained at 3 hours for more than 10 years. In their upcoming Ergonomics in Design article, “‘This is your heart speaking. Call 911,’” authors Mary Carol Day and Christopher Young study the benefits of the AngelMed Guardian®, an implantable medical device currently undergoing clinical trials that alerts users about a potential heart attack through a combination of vibrations, audible tones, and visual warnings.
What makes the device distinctive is this combination of alert modes. Although vibrotactile (vibrating) alarms are sometimes used to warn medical personnel in operating rooms or ICUs of an emergency, very little research has focused on their potential as a self-monitoring device for patients. Auditory alarms are provided with selected implantable heart defibrillators, but research indicates that some patients – particularly the elderly – are unable to hear the alarms.
“A vibrotactile alarm provided by the implanted device has two major advantages,” says Day. “First, the implanted device can’t be left behind like a portable device. Second, a vibrotactile alarm from the implanted device is more likely to be felt than an auditory alarm is to be heard because, for example, the patient may be wearing heavy clothing, has hearing loss, or is in a noisy environment.”
The device offers two levels of alarm urgency: A high-priority alarm indicates that the patient may be having a heart attack and should call 911, and a low-priority alarms indicates that a condition has been detected that requires a doctor visit within 48 hours. The alarms are provided by an implanted medical device, similar in size to a pacemaker, that is placed in the upper left chest, plus an external device, similar to a pager, that emits an auditory alarm and flashes a red or yellow warning light.
In a series of studies with older adults designed to test the device’s design and user-friendliness, participants were able to tell the difference between the low-priority and high-priority vibration patterns and respond appropriately. They also reported that they liked the vibrating alarms and the redundancy of the auditory, visual, and vibrotactile warnings.
“If the Guardian is approved for sale by the FDA,” continues Day, “it might be extended in ways that will change the way the patient interacts with the system as a whole. This would require more research and simulated-use studies to refine and validate the new interactions between the patient and the system.”
For a full copy of the article, contact HFES Communications Director Lois Smith (firstname.lastname@example.org, 310/394-1811).
TSA will love this.