Top stories: Computers that ‘think’ like humans, research chimps that can’t retire, and a protein that can halt the flu

June 16, 2017 2:15 am
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Top stories: Computers that ‘think’ like humans, research chimps that can’t retire, and a protein that can halt the flu

By Ryan Cross

Computers are starting to reason like humans

How many parks are near the new home you’re thinking of buying? What’s the best dinner-wine pairing at a restaurant? These everyday questions require relational reasoning, an important component of higher thought that has been difficult for artificial intelligence to master. Now, researchers at Google’s DeepMind have developed a simple algorithm to handle such reasoning—and it has already beaten humans at a complex image comprehension test.

Curiosity and irritation meet Macron’s effort to lure foreign scientists to France

Hours after U.S. President Donald Trump announced that the United States was withdrawing from the Paris climate accord, French President Emmanuel Macron pledged to “make our planet great again” by intensifying efforts to combat climate change—and inviting U.S. researchers who might be unhappy with Trump to work in France. The French government then unveiled a website aimed at attracting foreign scientists with 4-year grants worth up to €1.5 million each. The move has irritated some French scientists, who say it raises concerns about their nation’s commitment to homegrown science.

China’s quantum satellite achieves ‘spooky action’ at record distance

Quantum entanglement—physics at its strangest—has moved out of this world and into space. In a study that shows China’s growing mastery of both the quantum world and space science, a team of physicists reports that it sent eerily intertwined quantum particles from a satellite to ground stations separated by 1200 kilometers, smashing the previous world record. The result is a stepping stone to ultrasecure communication networks and, eventually, a space-based quantum internet.

Designer protein halts flu

There’s a new weapon taking shape in the war on flu, one of the globe’s most dangerous infectious diseases. Scientists have created a designer protein that stops the influenza virus from infecting cells in culture and protects mice from getting sick after being exposed to a heavy dose of the virus. It can also be used as a sensitive diagnostic. And although it isn’t ready as a treatment itself, the protein may point the way to future flu drugs, scientists say.

Research on lab chimps is over. Why have so few been retired to sanctuaries?

The U.S. government effectively ended all invasive research on chimpanzees in 2015 and said it would retire all the chimps it owned. Yet in the past 2 years, only 73 chimpanzees have entered sanctuaries, while nearly 600 remain in research facilities. Why has retirement been so slow? Labs have dragged their feet, sanctuaries haven’t expanded quickly enough, and the government itself didn’t have a concrete plan for retirement. The slow pace has heightened tensions between the laboratory and sanctuary communities, which are struggling to put aside decades of frigid relations to make chimpanzee retirement a reality.

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