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Talk nerdy to me

If you’re new here, Talk Nerdy to Me rounds up the coolest news in science with an emphasis on stuff that sounds like it’s straight out of a sci-fi movie. If you like technology as much as we do, you’re sure to enjoy what we’ve got in store.

Elephant earthquake

<strong>Big foot.</strong> Seismic vibrations may carry elephant communication farther than sounds moving through the air, offering researchers a non-intrusive way to track large, endangered animals. Courtesy Benjamin Pley/Unsplash.Researchers may have just found a better way to track elephants through earthquake monitoring devices. The animals are so big that they shake the ground when they move or even grunt. This could prove useful in efforts to keep poachers from killing these endangered animals.

No need to lend me your ear

Shamika Burrage, a 21-year old private in the Army, has defied the odds by successfully having a new ear transplanted onto her head after losing the original in an auto accident. The extra fascinating part of this story is that she grew the new ear herself, under the skin on her forearm.

According to CNN, doctors took cartilage from Burrage’s ribs and altered it to grow under a skin flap on her arm. Not only did this procedure reduce scarring along her jawline, it also allowed the ear to naturally produce new blood vessels and new nerves, so she’ll be able to feel the new ear.

Root words

<strong>At the root.</strong> When plant seedlings are touched on their leaves they exude compounds that communicate to their neighbors through their roots underground. Courtesy Elhakeem et al. <a href='https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/'>(CC BY 4.0)</a>A recent study suggests that plants “listen” to their neighbors in order to survive. A report published in Plos One found that plants have the ability to detect chemicals produced by other plants in an overcrowded space.

Maize plants were touched with a makeup brush in order to simulate the effects of a nearby plant rubbing against them. The researchers found that seedlings near the touched plants put more resources toward growing above-ground structures than they did to their roots, suggesting that plants know when they’re in a crowded environment and respond by attempting to extend above their neighbors to reach the sun. 

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Ethics of facial recognition

Big brother. A BBC reporter offers himself as the quarry for China's 170 million CCTV cameras equipped with facial recognition software. How long will it take before they can find him? Courtesy BBC.

China’s extensive use of video surveillance technology is raising ethical questions about facial recognition software. The country currently has around 170 million CCTV cameras watching its citizens, but this technology is nowhere near perfect—meaning mistakes can be made.

Facial recognition software has a long way to go, and false positives are still very common—at times up to 92 percent. What’s more, collection of facial data currently exists in a sort of legal limbo in the US and other countries.

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Finding a balance

Scientists have long been intrigued by antimatter, a substance made up of sub-atomic particles that have the opposite properties of regular matter. As we understand things, you simply cannot create matter without the appearance of an equal amount of antimatter.

However, as physics researcher Don Lincoln discusses in a CNN article, there is almost no antimatter in our universe. His piece touches on the theories behind this absence.

Did Google just beat the Turing Test?

Hate making phone calls? Google wants to make your life easier with their new Duplex AI that can make phone calls on your behalf. Courtesy Tech Insider.

At the Google I/O 2018 conference, the search engine giant released a feature for Google Assistant that’s wowing some people and terrifying others. Google has created an AI personality so realistic that it can fool humans into thinking it’s a real person. 

The new feature, called Google Duplex, can conduct conversations with humans in order to complete tasks for its user. The AI system uses colloquial language and even says “uh” and “um” to better imitate a real person.

Smelling a rat

Memory test. Jonathon Crystal discusses the first evidence that non-human animals can mentally replay past events from memory. The ability to test human types of memory in rats will strengthen the search for drugs to treat Alzheimer's disease. Courtesy Indiana University.

Research conducted at Indiana University proves that rats can visualize specific events from their past, which ultimately may help scientists better understand Alzheimer’s disease. The neuroscientists tested episodic memory, something you might use when you retrace your steps to try to find your lost wallet.

The scientists first had rats memorize 12 different odors. They then rewarded the rats if they could remember the specific order in which the smells were presented, such as finding the second-to-last odor they had smelled. The findings will help researchers develop new therapies for the memory loss associated with Alzheimer’s.

Social media detectives

On June 27, 2017, Oscar Pérez stole a helicopter and dropped grenades on buildings used by the Venezuelan government. On January 15, 2018, Venezuelan law enforcement killed Pérez and six of his friends at their safe house.

However, many have postulated that he was executed rather than dying in a gunfight the government claims he started. Bellingcat and Forensic Architecture collected 60 pieces of evidence from social media in an attempt to prove that Pérez was ready to surrender.

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