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New Scientist


Facebook says its AI could help find drug combinations to treat cancer

New Scientist

Facebook claims that its new artificial intelligence can predict the way drugs interact with each other inside cells quicker than existing methods, enabling speedier discovery of new drug combinations to treat illnesses like cancer, but some researchers say it may not translate into results that will be useful in humans. The system, developed by Facebook AI Research and the Helmholtz Centre in Munich, Germany, is claimed to be the first easy-to-use AI model able to estimate how different drugs will work in the body. It could speed up our ability to uncover new treatments for diseases like cancer. "Drug research often takes half a decade to develop a compound," says Fabian Theis at the Helmholtz Centre, one of the authors of the work. The model works by measuring how individual cells change in response to treatment from a particular set of drugs and recording those responses.


Robotic elephant trunk can learn new tasks on its own

New Scientist

A robotic elephant trunk that uses artificial intelligence to mimic some aspects of brains could lead to snake-like machines that can roam and adapt to new tasks. Sebastian Otte at the University of Tubingen in Germany and his colleagues created a 3D-printed robot trunk from segments that each include several motors driving gears that tilt up to 40 degrees in two axes. The trunk can bend, but also elongate or shorten. The team created a trunk with 10 segments, but they say the length could be doubled with more powerful motors.


Can the European Union prevent an artificial intelligence dystopia?

New Scientist

A European Union plan to regulate artificial intelligence could see companies that break proposed rules on mass surveillance and discrimination fined millions of euros. Draft legislation, leaked ahead of its official release later this month, suggests the EU is attempting to find a "third way" on AI regulation, between the free market US and authoritarian China. The draft rules represent an outright ban on AI designed to manipulate people "to their detriment", carry out indiscriminate surveillance or calculate "social scores". Much of the wording is currently vague enough that it could cover the entire advertising industry or nothing at all. In any case, the military and any agency ensuring public security are exempt.


Microwave weapon could disable a swarm of military attack drones

New Scientist

Military drones can resist radio-jamming anti-drone devices, but a microwave weapon could take down a whole swarm at once, or disable just one with sniper-like precision


Wasps with no social life find it harder to recognise others

New Scientist

Paper wasps that live alone don't develop a part of their brain that seems to be important for facial recognition. The discovery shows how vital the social environment can be to brain development, even in biologically simple animals like insects. Northern paper wasps (Polistes fuscatus) usually live in groups of around a dozen, though these sometimes comprise up to 100 individuals. Group members all share umbrella-shaped nests, often built beneath roof hangings. The wasps can live their entire adult lives alone, but they rarely do.


Wasps with no social life may find it harder to recognise others

New Scientist

Paper wasps that live alone don't see as much development of a part of their brain that seems to be important for facial recognition. The discovery shows how vital the social environment can be to brain development, even in biologically simple animals like insects. Northern paper wasps (Polistes fuscatus) usually live in groups of around a dozen, though these sometimes comprise up to 100 individuals. Group members all share umbrella-shaped nests, often built beneath roof hangings. The wasps can live their entire adult lives alone, but they rarely do.


NASA is about to fly a helicopter on another planet for the first time

New Scientist

NASA's Ingenuity Mars helicopter photographed by the Perseverance rover on 5 April The first drone on another world is ready to fly. The Ingenuity helicopter is primed to lift off from the surface of Mars on 12 April, which will be the first powered flight on another planet. NASA's Perseverance rover, which launched in July 2020 and arrived on Mars on 18 February, carried the Ingenuity helicopter folded up in its belly. After the rover landed, it dropped Ingenuity onto the ground and drove off so the drone could ready itself for its first flight. "It has survived launch, it has survived the journey through space, the vacuum and radiation, it has survived the entry and descent and landing onto the surface on the bottom of the Perseverance rover," said Bob Balaram at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), Ingenuity's chief engineer, during a 23 March press conference.


Robot guide dog could help people who are blind navigate

New Scientist

Guide dogs are expensive to train, so robots could provide a cheaper alternative to help people who are blind


Living robots made from frog skin cells can sense their environment

New Scientist

A microscopic, living robot that can heal and power itself has been created out of frog skin cells. Xenobots, named after the frog species Xenopus laevis that the cells come from, were first described last year. Now the team behind the robots has improved their design and demonstrated new capabilities. To create the spherical xenobots, Michael Levin at Tufts University in Massachusetts and his colleagues extracted tissue from 24-hour-old frog embryos which formed into spheroid structures after minimal physical manipulation. Where the previous version relied on the contraction of heart muscle cells to move them forward by pushing off surfaces, these new xenobots swim around faster, being self-propelled by hair-like structures on their surface.


Robot lizard can quickly climb a wall just like the real thing

New Scientist

Those that climb need to be both fast and stable to avoid predation and find food. A robot made to mimic their movements has now shown how the rotation of their legs and the speed with which they move up vertical surfaces helps them climb efficiently. "Most lizards look a lot like other lizards," says Christofer Clemente at University of the Sunshine Coast, Australia. To find out why, Clemente and his team built a robot based on a lizard's body plan to explore its efficiency. It is about 24 centimetres long, and its legs and feet were programmed to mimic the gait of climbing lizards.