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Ancient Mesopotamian cuneiform tablets could be decoded by an AI

New Scientist

A deep learning artificial intelligence (AI) model can predict missing words, fragments and sentences from cuneiform tablets that are up to 4500 years old. Clay tablets inscribed with text written in the Akkadian language are key tools for understanding the cultures that existed in and around Mesopotamia – centred on present day Iraq – between 2500 BC and 100 AD. But the tablets' age means many are damaged, with key sections of text missing.


AI can detect a deepfake face because its pupils have jagged edges

New Scientist

Could this be a computer-generated face? Creating a fake persona online with a computer-generated face is easier than ever before, but there is a simple way to catch these phony pictures – look at the eyes. The inability of artificial intelligence to draw circular pupils gives away whether or not a face comes from a real photograph. Generative adversarial networks (GANs) – a type of AI that can generate images from a simple prompt – can produce realistic-looking faces.


Wooden robot arm is powered by plastic muscles

New Scientist

A polymer that changes shape when heated can lift objects 5000 times its own weight, with potential applications in robotics. Shape-memory polymers flip between their normal state, where molecules are flexible and disordered, and their deformed state, where the molecules bind after being stretched. Once in the stretched, deformed state, the polymer can be unstretched – resuming its "normal" state – by applying heat or light. However, traditional shape-memory polymers don't store significant amounts of energy while being stretched – meaning they don't release much energy while unstretching, which limits their use in tasks that involve lifting or moving objects. Zhenan Bao at Stanford University in California and her colleagues have now produced a shape-memory polymer that does store and release appreciable amounts of energy.


A US military robot ship has fired a large missile for the first time

New Scientist

The US Department of Defense has released footage of an uncrewed ship firing a large missile, in a demonstration of its Ghost Fleet Overlord programme, an initiative to develop robot vessels that can operate alongside crewed warships. Previous Ghost Fleet operations have focused on endurance missions without human assistance, including the first uncrewed transit of the Panama Canal, but the firing is the first indication that the vessels will be armed. The SM-6 weapon used in the demonstration is a 1500-kilogram missile travelling at Mach 3.5 with …


Watch a one-legged robot hop about as researchers try to knock it over

New Scientist

A one-legged robot that can stand, hop and keep its balance on sloping or unsteady surfaces could offer a cheaper route to bipedal bots and self-balancing exoskeletons. Researchers at the Toyota Technological Institute (TTI) in Nagoya, Japan, built their robot, dubbed TTI Hopper, using simple motors and gears for less than $1000, then created an algorithm that compensates for the limited capabilities of these components. "In robotics, we sometimes use hydraulics, because they can be actuated fast," says Barkan Uğurlu, who is now at Özyeğin University in Istanbul, Turkey. "Or electric actuators that have a special spring arrangement or a strain gauge to measure forces inside. Instead, we used DC motors with gears. We only measure the joint angle, and we only used one very low-cost force sensor at the foot."


Call centre workers can use AI to mimic your accent on the phone

New Scientist

Does the call centre worker live near you or are they using AI to mimic your accent? AI software can detect the accent of a person on one end of an online or telephone conversation and modify the accent of a person responding through a phone or computer microphone to match it in real time. It is hoped that the technology will enable greater understanding and clarity in a range of interactions including customer support, education and telemedicine.


Google is shutting down controversial data-sharing project with NHS

New Scientist

Google plans to shut down its controversial Streams app, which analysed medical record information and aimed to improve monitoring of vital signs and other tests to improve care. The tech company's AI subsidiary, DeepMind, first announced in February 2016 that it was working with the National Health Service (NHS) trusts to analyse patient data. The company intended to combine machine learning with bulk medical data to develop models that could predict or diagnose acute kidney injury.


Rapidly evolving bits of DNA helped develop the human brain

New Scientist

Many of the fastest-evolving sections of the human genome are involved in brain development. These rapidly changing segments of DNA may have played key roles in the evolution of the human brain and in our cognitive abilities. Chris Walsh at Boston Children's Hospital in Massachusetts and his colleagues studied sections of the human genome dubbed "human accelerated regions" (HARs). These stretches of DNA are virtually identical in many other mammals that have been studied, suggesting they have important functions – but they differ in humans, implying our evolution has changed them. Previous studies have identified 3171 possible HARs, but Walsh says it is unlikely that they are all important.


Scorpions have strange joints that can simultaneously bend and twist

New Scientist

Scorpions' tail joints both bend and twist at once Scorpion tails can simultaneously twist and bend thanks to unusual joints, which could inspire new kinds of robots. A detailed analysis of the scorpion tail reveals that its joints move simultaneously in ways similar to both a door hinge and a rotating wheel, providing for highly precise sting strikes, all the while allowing body tissues to run through its hollow structure. "Nobody has ever seen a joint like this before, so it's really fascinating," says Alice Günther at the University of Rostock in Germany. After investigating dozens of scorpions representing 16 species, Günther and her colleagues ran microscopic computed tomography (CT) scans of the five tail segments of a laboratory-bred adult female Mesobuthus gibbosus scorpion, a species that has tails typical of the vast majority of scorpions. They used the images to create 3D digital and print models that provided more practical views of the arachnid's tail joint, which evolved into its current form 400 million years ago.


Ants use soil physics to excavate metre-long tunnels that last decades

New Scientist

Ant colonies can descend several metres underground, house millions of insects and last for decades, despite being made without the benefit of machinery and reinforcing material. The secrets of these impressive architectural structures are being revealed by three-dimensional X-ray imaging and computer simulations, and could be used to develop robotic mining machines. José Andrade at the California Institute of Technology and his colleagues set up miniature ant colonies in a container holding 500 millilitres of soil and 15 western harvester ants (Pogonomyrmex occidentalis). The position of every ant and every grain of soil was then captured by high-resolution X-ray scans every 10 minutes for 20 hours. The X-ray results gave researchers exact details about the shape of each tunnel and which grains were being removed to create it.