Fred, a trans man, clicked his mouse, and his tenorful tones suddenly sank deeper. He'd switched on voice-changing algorithms that provided what sounded like an instant vocal cord transplant. "This one is'Seth,'" he said, of a persona he was testing on a Zoom call with a reporter. Then, he switched to speak as "Joe," whose voice was more nasal and upbeat. Fred's friend Jane, a trans woman also testing the prototype software, chuckled and showcased some artificial voices she liked for their feminine sound.
The sky in Final Fantasy XIV is full of catgirls on broomsticks and elves on dragonback. In World of Warcraft, orcs glide along in giant metal rockets and humans steer horse-sized birds across miles of desert. In the decade-plus since flying first came to massively multiplayer online role-playing games, digital airspace has become as populated as the ground, maybe even more so. When game developers introduced mounted flying to online superhero game City of Heroes and World of Warcraft in the mid-aughts, it changed the MMORPG genre forever--both for better and for worse. One of humanity's greatest wishes, it turns out, has sparked major controversy in the world of video games.
Some software developers are now letting artificial intelligence help write their code. They're finding that AI is just as flawed as humans. Last June, GitHub, a subsidiary of Microsoft that provides tools for hosting and collaborating on code, released a beta version of a program that uses AI to assist programmers. Start typing a command, a database query, or a request to an API, and the program, called Copilot, will guess your intent and write the rest. Alex Naka, a data scientist at a biotech firm who signed up to test Copilot, says the program can be very helpful, and it has changed the way he works.
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Daryl Gregory's collection Unpossible features several short stories inspired by neuroscience, including "Digital," in which a man's consciousness migrates from his head into his finger, and "Glass," in which sociopaths are "cured" by activating their mirror neurons. "It's great to have a job where you get permission to feed your hobby and buy as many books as you want, and so I keep buying neuroscience books," Gregory says in Episode 484 of the Geek's Guide to the Galaxy podcast. "I'm endlessly fascinated by that stuff, and so I'm always looking for ways to make that into stories." In his story "Dead Horse Point," a genius physicist suffers from a strange condition that causes her to disappear into her own mind for weeks at a time. Gregory says the story was inspired by a friend of his. "He wasn't completely dysfunctional like the character in my story, but he was a really gifted mathematician, and when he was working on a hard problem, he would--for days at a time--he would drift around, he would eat automatically, he would barely talk to people," Gregory says.
Everything, it seems, is on the line right now. Is mRNA technology on the verge of pulling us out of the pandemic, or will a wily, evolving virus bring us several more years of testing, booster shots, uncertainty, and angst? Will AI liberate us with amazing new medicines, materials, and modes of entertainment, or subtly enslave us in an algorithmically guided world where none of our choices is truly our own? Will we stop the deadly climb of global temperatures or just hunker down behind higher flood defenses and more powerful air-conditioners? Will ransomware be tamed, or will it bring down governments?
If you have problems, ask yourself one question: Do I drink enough tea? In the history of human civilization, boiling plants in water has probably helped more people get through their days than just about any other ritual or nontoxic consumable. Tea is a social salve, a private therapy, and the drink of choice for the clearest-headed among us, from mothers to mountain monks. For reasons less scientific than simply understood by all, tea slows existence--calms it--considerably down. Becky Chambers is a lifelong lover of tea.
Last month, Stanford researchers declared that a new era of artificial intelligence had arrived, one built atop colossal neural networks and oceans of data. They said a new research center at Stanford would build--and study--these "foundational models" of AI. Critics of the idea surfaced quickly--including at the workshop organized to mark the launch of the new center. Some object to the limited capabilities and sometimes freakish behavior of these models; others warn of focusing too heavily on one way of making machines smarter. "I think the term'foundation' is horribly wrong," Jitendra Malik, a professor at UC Berkeley who studies AI, told workshop attendees in a video discussion.
A team at Brown University has developed a system that uses dozens of silicon microchips to record and transmit brain activity to a computer. Dubbed "neurograins," the chips--each about the size of a grain of salt--are designed to be sprinkled across the brain's surface or throughout its tissue to collect neural signals from more areas than currently possible with other brain implants. "Each grain has enough micro-electronics stuffed into it so that, when embedded in neural tissue, it can listen to neuronal activity on the one hand, and then can also transmit it as a tiny little radio to the outside world," says lead author Arto Nurmikko, a neuroengineer at Brown who led the development of the neurograins. The system, known as a brain-computer interface, is described in a paper published August 12 in Nature Electronics. Alongside other Brown researchers, as well as collaborators from Baylor University, the University of California at San Diego, and Qualcomm, Nurmikko began working on the neurograins four years ago with initial funding from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.
It began in early October 2017, when 108 stroke patients with significant arm and hand disabilities turned up for a peculiar clinical trial. The researchers would be surgically implanting a neurostimulator to their vagus nerve, the cranial nerve that runs along the groove in the front of the neck and is responsible for transmitting signals from the brain to other parts of the body. By the time the trial concluded, the subjects' once limited limbs had begun to come back to life. Somehow, pulses to that nerve combined with rehab therapy had given the patients improved use of their disabled limb--and done so faster and more effectively than any treatment before it, even on those who had responded to nothing else. This spring, the findings of the trial were published in The Lancet.