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New Scientist


Quantum version of the ancient game of Go could be ultimate AI test

New Scientist

A new version of the ancient Chinese board game Go that uses quantum entanglement to add an element of randomness could make it a tougher test for artificial intelligences than regular board games. "Board games have long been good test beds for AI because these games provide closed worlds with specific and simple rules," says Xian-Min Jin at Shanghai Jiao Tong University in China. In Go, players take turns to place a stone on a board, trying to surround and capture the opponent's stones.


Australia will use robot boats to find asylum seekers at sea

New Scientist

Australia is deploying a fleet of uncrewed robot boats to patrol its waters and monitor weather and wildlife. They will also flag boats potentially transporting asylum seekers, a plan that has concerned human rights groups. The 5-metre-long vessels, known as Bluebottles after an Australian jellyfish, look like miniature sailing yachts. They use a combination of wind, wave and solar power to maintain a steady 5-knot speed in all conditions. Sydney-based Ocius Technology delivered the prototype in 2017 and Australia's Ministry of Defence has now awarded an AU$5.5 million (£3m) …


Watch a beam of light bounce off mirrors in ultra-slow motion

New Scientist

An ultra-fast camera has captured a video of light as it bounces between mirrors. Although light isn't normally visible in flight, some photons from a laser pulse will scatter off particles in the air and can be picked up by a camera. Using these photons to recreate the pulse's trajectory is difficult, because by the time they reach the camera, the pulse has moved to a new location. Edoardo Charbon at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne and his colleagues used a camera with a shutter speed of about a trillionth of a second to take pictures and video of a laser beam following a 3D path. Knowing exactly how long the pulse took to get to the camera, along with the pulse's trajectory in a flat plane, allowed a machine learning algorithm to reconstruct the entire 3D path of the burst of light.


Birdwatching AI can recognise individual birds from behind

New Scientist

Artificial intelligence has been trained to recognise individual birds, which is more than we humans are capable of. The system is being developed for biologists studying wild animals, but could be adapted so that people can identify individual birds in their surroundings. André Ferreira at the Center for Functional and Evolutionary Ecology in Montpellier, France, started the project while studying how individual sociable weavers contribute to their colonies. This is normally done by putting coloured tags on their legs and sitting by nests to watch them, which is very time-consuming. Ferreira tried filming the colonies instead, but often the coloured tags weren't visible in the footage, so he and his colleagues turned to AI.


Flapping drone can fly, dart and hover like a bird

New Scientist

A drone with flapping wings that can make quick turns like a bird could one day be used to monitor crowds as well as crops in fields. The drone consists of a motor and a battery attached to a set of X-shaped wings made from polyurethane film and carbon fibre (see video, below). It also has rear stabilising fins made from expanded polystyrene. Yao-Wei Chin at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore and his colleagues designed the drone to overcome many of the problems faced by previous robots with flapping wings. These aren't able to hover because doing so requires too much energy, he says.


Hundreds of illegal Chinese fishing vessels spotted near North Korea

New Scientist

Satellite imaging has revealed hundreds of vessels from China fishing off the coast of North Korea, violating UN resolutions prohibiting such activity in the largest known case of vessels from one country operating unlawfully in another country's waters. More than 800 vessels were seen in 2019, say researchers at the non-profit Global Fishing Watch, who traced the boats to Chinese ports and waters. A similar number were seen in 2017 and 2018. They estimate that the vessels, about a third of China's long-range fishing fleet, caught more than 160,000 tonnes of flying squid, rivalling the Japanese and South Korean total. Stocks of the squid, the main commercially fished species in the area, have declined dramatically in recent years.


Robots can now give full-body personalised massages at home

New Scientist

You can now get a massage without having to rely on another human being or leave your home, thanks to newly developed robot masseurs. French company Capsix Robotics and researchers at the University of Plymouth in the UK have both created robots that can give personalised massages. The Capsix model has a robotic arm with sensors and a camera that allow it to adapt to the individual user's body shape.


Artificial spider webs shake to stay clean, just like the real thing

New Scientist

Material scientists have made artificial spider webs that attract objects and shake off water, just like the real thing. They hope that the material could one day be used to help robots self-clean. Won Jun Song at Seoul National University in South Korea and his colleagues based the silk in their spider webs on a composite of silicone, a highly conductive gel and a hydrophobic coating. "Hydrogels have several outstanding features for spider webs," says Song. For instance, they are transparent and highly stretchable.


Beetles carrying tiny backpack cameras stream footage to a smartphone

New Scientist

Shyam Gollakota and his colleagues at the University of Washington in the US have developed a small steerable camera that can be affixed to beetles to transmit footage from their surrounding environment in real time. The camera uses Bluetooth to stream footage to a smartphone at a resolution of 160 by 120 pixels, and at a rate of between one and five frames per second. It sits on a mechanical arm that can be remotely controlled to pivot the camera frame left and right. Capturing footage while beetles move has a power-saving advantage over insect-like robots or drones, says Gollakota. "That mobility really drains the battery a lot," he says.


We must regulate AI now to improve our lives and avoid its risks

New Scientist

DONE wisely, artificial intelligence "can be the best thing ever for humanity", says the fundamental physicist turned AI researcher Max Tegmark in our interview this week (see "If we do it wisely, AI can be the best thing ever for humanity"). We subscribe wholeheartedly to his assessment. Seldom has there been a technology with such an obvious power to improve our lot – or one with such obvious dangers. The risks are potentially existential.