Scientists have created a new type of robot that is literally alive


Sitting in a petri dish in the laboratories of Tufts University and the University of Vermont are a new kind of life form — half living cells and half machine. Xenobots are a scientific and technological breakthrough — a living organism that is fully programmable, capable of changing form and function essentially on command. The new type of bot was first introduced earlier this year, and thanks to a report from the New York Times, we now have a look behind the process of creating the novel creatures that have the potential to bridge the divide between the mechanical and biological.

Xenobots are not like any creature you’ve seen before. In fact, you can’t really see them at all. These so-called living machines look like little more than a speck to the naked eye, measuring up at about one millimeter wide. The idea for the new organisms was first dreamed up on a supercomputer at the University of Vermont. Researchers ran hundreds of simulations using what they called an “evolutionary algorithm” that would simulate different types of cells. It finally landed on the design for what would become the Xenobot. To bring that design to life, scientists scraped thousands of living skin cells from frog embryos — specifically the African clawed frog Xenopus laevis, hence the name Xenobot. After separating the cells and allowing them to incubate, the researchers used a tiny forceps and electrode to cut and assemble the cells under a microscope until they were assembled in a way that matched the supercomputer’s blueprint.

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SwarmTouch: A tactile interaction strategy for human-swarm communication


A user manipulating the formation of a swarm of drones using SwarmTouch. Credit: Tsykunov et al.

 SwarmTouch: a tactile interaction strategy for human-swarm communication

Researchers at the Skolkovo Institute of Science and Technology (Skoltech) in Russia have recently introduced a new strategy to enhance interactions between humans and robotic swarms, called SwarmTouch. This strategy, presented in a paper pre-published on arXiv, allows a human operator to communicate with a swarm of nano-quadrotor drones and guide their formation, while receiving tactile feedback in the form of vibrations.

“We are working in the field of swarm of drones and my previous research in the field of haptics was very helpful in introducing a new frontier of tactile human-swarm interactions,” Dzmitry Tsetserukou, Professor at Skoltech and head of Intelligent Space Robotics laboratory, told TechXplore. “During our experiments with the swarm, however, we understood that current interfaces are too unfriendly and difficult to operate.”

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Human error, not artificial intelligence, poses the greatest threat


A robot and a dancer perform during the opening ceremony of an industry fair in Hanover, Germany on 31 March 2019.

The risk that humanity faces comes not from malevolent machines but from incompetent programmers, writes Martyn Thomas.

The long read (28 March) on the threat from artificial intelligence misses the point. In a paper written in 1951, Alan Turing demolished all the arguments against AI one day surpassing human intelligence, but there is no sign that that “singularity” is on the horizon. The imminent threat is that we’ve built a digital society on software foundations that are too vulnerable to failures and cyber-attacks, as a recent report from the Huawei Cyber Security Evaluation Centre oversight board powerfully illustrated. The risk that humanity faces comes not from malevolent machines but from incompetent programmers who leave their customers vulnerable to cyber-attacks and other failures.

If we survive long enough to see truly intelligent machines, then there is no known barrier to them developing consciousness. But how could we tell?

Martyn Thomas

Emeritus professor of IT, Gresham College, London

Via The Guardian


Why DNA is The most exciting programming language today


When Sean Parker was young, he cofounded Napster and changed the way we listen to music. In his twenties, he helped jump-start Facebook and changed the way we interact with each other. Now, at age 38, he’s set on changing something else: the way we treat disease. The Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy, which he founded in 2016, has dedicated $250 million toward using new technologies like Crispr to teach the human body to vanquish cancer. Alex Marson is a scientist building the tools to do just that. His research at UC San Francisco and the Parker Institute rejiggers the DNA of T cells—your immune system’s sentinels—to better recognize and attack malignant mutineers. Parker and Marson sat down to talk about Crispr, genome editing, and the most exciting coding language today: DNA. —Megan Molteni

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AI learns to write its own code by stealing from other programs

OUT of the way, human, I’ve got this covered. A machine learning system has gained the ability to write its own code.

Created by researchers at Microsoft and the University of Cambridge, the system, called DeepCoder, solved basic challenges of the kind set by programming competitions. This kind of approach could make it much easier for people to build simple programs without knowing how to write code.

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What software engineers are making around the world right now

A new study published by the data science team at Hired, a jobs marketplace for tech workers, shows why it’s becoming harder for software engineers to afford life in San Francisco, even while they make more money than their peers elsewhere in the U.S. and the world.

Based on 280,000 interview requests and job offers provided by more than 5,000 companies to 45,000 job seekers on Hired’s platform, the company’s data team has determined that the average salary for a software engineer in the Bay Area is $134,000. That’s more than software engineers anywhere in the country, through Seattle trails closely behind, paying engineers an average of $126,000. In other tech hubs, including Boston, Austin, L.A., New York, and Washington, D.C., software engineers are paid on average between $110,000 and $120,000.

Yet higher salaries don’t mean much with jaw-dropping rents and other soaring expenses associated with life in “Silicon Valley,” and San Francisco more specifically. Indeed, factoring in the cost of living, San Francisco is now one of the lowest-paying cities for software engineers, according to Hired’s lead data scientist, Jessica Kirkpatrick. According to her analysis, the $110,000 that an Austin engineer makes is the rough equivalent of being paid $198,000 in the Bay Area, considering how much further each dollar goes in the sprawling capital of Texas. The same is true of Melbourne, Australia, where software engineers are paid a comparatively low $107,000 on average, but who are making the equivalent of $150,000 in San Francisco.

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The future of American jobs lies in the tech industry

Rows of office workers working on computers with data streaming

When Donald Trump won the election, many in Silicon Valley were flummoxed: “How could a bigoted billionaire with no government experience and a twitchy Twitter trigger finger win the U.S. presidential election?” they asked themselves.

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The best of the best U.S. jobs are tech, tech and tech, again


Hey kids, want to grow up to land the best job in the country? Then keep poring over those math and science textbooks. Jobs that require a range of STEM skills (science, technology, engineering and math) claimed 14 spots in Glassdoor’s new “50 Best Jobs in America” survey, out Monday.

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