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Family Caught Selling Diseased Body Parts to Medical Centers

A father and son team was just charged with fraud and concealing a crime for their six-year black market operation where they sold human body parts.

Side Hustle

A father and son team from Michigan were just charged for illegally selling human body parts — and failing to disclose that the corpses carried infectious diseases.

The duo, both named Donald Greene, sold bodies that people donated to the Biological Resource Center of Illinois for the purpose of furthering scientific research, according to CBS Chicago.

No Returns

The family sold body parts to medical clinics such as the Detroit Medical Center’s sports medicine department between 2008 and 2014, according to the station, sometimes for up to $100,000 per CBS.

But they also failed to disclose that they were selling body parts that had tested positive for diseases including HIV, hepatitis, and sepsis, CBS reports.

Technicality

Strangely enough, selling body parts isn’t strictly illegal.

But selling bodies that had been donated for medical research constitutes fraud, according to the federal prosecutors who charged the Greenes, and failing to disclose the infections was against the law. Greene Sr. has been charged with wire fraud, and Jr. with concealing a crime.

READ MORE: Father And Son Charged With Selling Diseased Body Parts In Alleged Brokering Scheme [CBS Chicago]

More on body parts: Freezing And Storing Donated Organs Could Eliminate Some Transplant Waitlists

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Family Caught Selling Diseased Body Parts to Medical Centers

The First Black Hole Photo Is Even More Amazing When You Zoom Out

A team from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory has shared an image that puts the first black hole photo into stunning context.

Photo Friends

The Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) wasn’t the only powerful device with its gaze fixed upon galaxy Messier 87 (M87) in April 2017.

While the EHT was focused on the event horizon of the black hole at the center of M87, NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory was taking a wider view of the same target — and the image produced through those observations puts the black hole photo into stunning context.

Credit, X-ray: NASA/CXC/Villanova University/J. Neilsen; Radio: Event Horizon Telescope Collaboration

1,000 Light Years

The Chandra team provided additional details on the dazzling display of bright particles captured in its black hole companion image in a blog post shared on Monday:

“While Chandra can’t see the shadow itself, its field of view is much larger than the EHT’s, so Chandra can view the full length of the jet of high-energy particles launched by the intense gravitational and magnetic fields around the black hole. This jet extends more than 1,000 light years from the center of the galaxy.”

Image Credit, X-ray: NASA/CXC/Villanova University/J. Neilsen; Radio: Event Horizon Telescope Collaboration

READ MORE: Chandra and the Event Horizon Telescope [Chandra X-Ray Observatory]

More on the black hole photoScientists Just Released the First-Ever Image of a Black Hole

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The First Black Hole Photo Is Even More Amazing When You Zoom Out

Fecal Transplants Reduce Symptoms of Autism Long Term

A new study shows that fecal transplants of healthy gut flora can help reduce the more severe symptoms of Autism Spectrum Disorder.

Follow-Up

New research suggests that fecal transplants can reduce the severity of conditions associated with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) — and that the changes last several years after the transplants.

Back in 2017, Arizona State University conducted a study on children with ASD of varying severity. Now, research published Tuesday in the journal Scientific Reports shows that the reduction in ASD symptoms persisted for two years after the fact, further demonstrating the link between the gut microbiome and the brain.

Drastic Change

In the original study, 15 of the 18 children had what was considered severe autism, with difficulty communicating and handling social interactions. Two years after the study, which involved eight weeks of fecal transplants that reintroduced a greater variety of healthy microbial flora into the participants’ gastrointestinal tracts, only three participants still fall within the “severe” classification, according to the research.

“We are finding a very strong connection between the microbes that live in our intestines and signals that travel to the brain,” Arizona scientist Rosa Krajmalnik-Brown told New Atlas. “Two years later, the children are doing even better, which is amazing.”

Early Days

The scientists are now working to design a larger and more thorough clinical trial in hopes of getting their treatment approved for use by the FDA, according to New Atlas.

And while the goal isn’t to “cure” a condition that some argue doesn’t need curing, this study suggests that fecal transplants could someday provide people with a way to help children with specific communicative or social difficulties.

READ MORE: Fecal transplants result in massive long-term reduction in autism symptoms [New Atlas]

More on fecal transplants: New Study Supports the Link Between Autism and Gut Microbes

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Fecal Transplants Reduce Symptoms of Autism Long Term

People Are Horrified When They Have to Torture a Virtual Person

In a virtual recreation of the infamous Milgram Shock Experiment, participants were just as reluctant to continue, even though no one was hurt.

Digital Shock

Back in 1961, psychologist Stanley Milgram shocked the world with controversial research in which everyday people followed a scientist’s instructions to electrocute someone who they thought was giving incorrect answers on a quiz — a damning indication that many people will acquiesce to brutal directives by an authority figure.

In December 2018, a team of London-based scientists repeated the experiment in a VR simulation in which they asked participants to zap a virtual avatar. Even though no one got hurt, participants were just as reluctant to pull the lever — even going so far as to try rigging the experiment so they didn’t have to, according to research published in the journal PLOSOne that breaks new ground in the psychology of how people relate to virtual characters.

Answer Key

During the experiment, participants quizzed a virtual character. A correct answer meant they could move on, while an incorrect answer meant the human participant had to administer a virtual electrical jolt. The scientists noticed that participants sometimes tried to feed the virtual avatar the correct answer by pronouncing it louder — in hopes that they wouldn’t be told to shock them.

And even though many participants continued to follow instructions, they were measurably stressed and anxious about doing so, the researchers write in a Scientific American blog post published Friday.

“At the end, even those who had cheated showed an increased stress level,” they wrote.

Big Picture

In their blog post, the scientists suggest that their research could be used to explain how people act under troubling leaders — just like how Milgram set out to explore the behavior of individual Nazis after World War II.

“If we look at our experiments as a proxy for resistance to authority, we can anticipate a psychological cost to the resisters. Even though their obedience isn’t genuine, those who persist endure additional stress compared to those who decide to quit,” they wrote. “In the long term they will also be facing the moral dilemma of engaged followership, wondering whether they engaged too much and in essence enabled a leader they did not want to obey.”

READ MORE: Would You Give a Virtual Electric Shock to an Avatar? [Scientific American]

More on Milgram: Why People Believe in Conspiracy Theories – and How to Change Their Minds

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People Are Horrified When They Have to Torture a Virtual Person

Seven Ways Cannabis Legalization Will Make the Future Better

Cannabis legalization is picking up steam across the nation. Here are seven ways the future stands to benefit from ending the war on weed.

High Times

In the United States, marijuana used to have a bad reputation.

Now, more than two out of every three people in the United States support legalizing cannabis, and state laws are reflecting that shift in opinion. Medical marijuana is currently legal in 33 states plus Washington, D.C., and in 10 of those states and the nation’s capital, adults over the age of 21 can legally buy marijuana for recreational use.

Government officials are even starting to push for nation-wide cannabis legalization — and not just because they think more people should be getting high.

Legalize It

Here are seven ways experts predict cannabis legalization will lead to a better future:

1. Cannabis is already creating jobs more quickly than any other industry — and the number of new jobs is expected to keep increasing as more places legalize marijuana.

2. Scientists believe legalization could make it easier for them to develop cannabis-based medical treatments. One such medication is already helping children cope with a rare, previously untreatable form of seizure-causing epilepsy, and early studies show the plant’s potential to treat everything from brain aging to psychosis.

3. Legalization gives governments the opportunity to regulate cannabis cultivation, thereby ensuring farmers aren’t allowed to damage the environment while growing their crops.

4. It also decreases the strain on the justice system, freeing up police — and billions of dollars in state money — to fight other criminal activity.

5. Experts are hopeful cannabis could help end the opioid crisis by easing the symptoms of withdrawal.

6. The taxes from cannabis sales could go toward improving any number of societal institutions. Oregon, where recreational marijuana is legal, recently dedicated millions in cannabis taxes to its schools and public health services.

7. By driving down cannabis costs, legalization also drives cartels and black-market dealers out of business — taking violent activity along with them.

More on cannabis: New Senate Bill Would Legalize Marijuana Nationwide

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Seven Ways Cannabis Legalization Will Make the Future Better

Tesla Says Autopilot Is Statistically Safer Than a Human Driver

A new Tesla safety report reveals an increase in Tesla crashes, but engaging Autopilot cuts the likelihood of a fender bender.

Good News/Bad News

Tesla’s latest quarterly safety data report is a mixed bag of good and bad news.

According to the report, which Tesla released this week, crashes involving the company’s vehicles are on the rise. Not great.

However, when Autopilot is engaged, Teslas are less likely to get into crashes, signaling that human drivers may benefit from an artificial intelligence safety boost. And even with Autopilot switched off, the likelihood of a Tesla getting into a crash is still less than the national average — a sign that Tesla’s efforts to make its cars the safest in the world appear to be paying off.

Crunched Number

In the fourth quarter of 2018, Tesla reported one accident for every 2.91 million miles driven with Autopilot engaged. The first Tesla safety report of 2019 shows that rate increasing slightly, to one accident every 2.87 million miles.

However, both of those figures are better than the statistics for Teslas without Autopilot engaged: one accident for every 1.76 million miles driven in Q4 2018 and one every 1.58 million miles driven in Q1 2019.

Teslas with or without Autopilot engaged also appear substantially safer than the average car, based on the new Tesla data. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s most recent data, there’s an auto crash every 436,000 miles driven in the United States.

READ MORE: Tesla releases new Autopilot safety report: more crashes but still fewer than when humans drive [Electrek]

More on Autopilot: Elon Musk: Teslas Should Have “Full Self-Driving” by End of 2019

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Tesla Says Autopilot Is Statistically Safer Than a Human Driver

Chinese Scientists Gene-Hacked Super Smart Human-Monkey Hybrids

Chinese scientists figured out that they could enhance a monkey's intelligence by introducing a single human gene linked to brain development.

Big Brain

For the first time, scientists have used gene-editing techniques to make monkey brains more humanlike.

The monkeys, rhesus macaques, got smarter — they had superior memories to unaltered monkeys, according to recently-published research that’s kicked off a fiery debate among ethicists about how far scientists should be able to take genetic experimentation.

Cognitive Gap

The team of Chinese scientists edited the human version of a gene called MCPH1 into the macaques. The new gene made the monkeys’ brains develop along a more human-like timeline. The gene-hacked monkeys had better reaction times and enhanced short-term memories compared to their unaltered peers, according to China Daily.

But not everyone is on board.

“The use of transgenic monkeys to study human genes linked to brain evolution is a very risky road to take,” University of Colorado geneticist James Sikela told the MIT Technology Review. “It is a classic slippery slope issue and one that we can expect to recur as this type of research is pursued.”

Evolutionary Roadmap

Pinpointing the gene’s role in intelligence could help scientists understand how humans evolved to be so smart, MIT Tech reports.

While altering one gene to enhance memory in some macaques won’t throw Darwinism off-kilter — there’s no risk of a “Planet of the Apes”-style uprising, yet — it could teach us how humanity became so intelligent and gives us hints as to why.

READ MORE: Chinese scientists have put human brain genes in monkeys—and yes, they may be smarter [MIT Technology Review]

More on gene editing: Scientist Who Gene-Hacked Babies “Likely” Boosted Their Brainpower

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Chinese Scientists Gene-Hacked Super Smart Human-Monkey Hybrids

Scientists: Next Black Hole Image Will Be Way Clearer

The first-ever black hole image is a blurry orange ring. During the announcement, scientists described how they're working to improve the resolution.

Pale Orange Ring

The image of a black hole shared by scientists on Wednesday represents many things. It’s the first-ever direct observation of a black hole’s event horizon, it’s evidence supporting Einstein’s theory of general relativity — and, if we’re being perfectly honest, it’s just straight-up awesome.

But the picture — a glowing orange ring — is also kind of fuzzy, like an optometrist forgot to calibrate her equipment before photographing someone’s retina. That’s why scientists from the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT), the international network that captured the image, are promising that the next one will be way crisper.

Enhance!

The EHT is a network of radio telescopes around the world. By combining their data, scientists can essentially treat the EHT as though it’s a single planet-sized dish. That lets them spot small, faraway objects like the black hole at the center of the M87 galaxy — but because there’s only a handful of telescopes in the network, the images are inherently fuzzy.

Since the M87 data was collected, a number of telescopes have joined the ranks of the EHT, meaning that any future images will already be sharper, EHT Director Shep Doeleman explained during a livestream on Wednesday. He also mentioned that algorithms could be used to clean up the current image.

The current image was taken with a network of telescopes that could capture a wavelength as small as one millimeter — Doeleman’s goal is to get that down to 0.87 millimeters. That would sharpen future images by 13 percent.

Branching Out

In coming years, the EHT may even grow larger than the Earth.

“World domination isn’t enough — we also want to get into space,” Doeleman said, explaining that he hopes to introduce orbital telescopes into the mix.

Doing so would mean an even higher resolution for future black hole images, and it could help the EHT finally capture Sagittarius A*, the supermassive black hole at the core of the Milky Way.

More on the EHT: Scientists Just Released the First-Ever Image of a Black Hole

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Scientists: Next Black Hole Image Will Be Way Clearer

Undersea Robots Are Helping Save the Great Barrier Reef

Australian scientists are preparing to deliver millions of coral larvae to the Great Barrier Reef using an autonomous drone called

RoboStork

A team of Australian scientists built an underwater robot that can deliver larval coral to the Great Barrier reef, where they hope it will help restore the reef to some of its former glory, before it was ravaged by climate change.

The delivery drone, LarvalBot, is a more hospitable version of the underwater drone that has previously been used to hunt and kill off the coral’s predators — yet another experiment in using robotics to protect and help recover the world’s coral reefs.

Fertilizing The Lawn

The scientists behind the project consider their work similar to fertilizing a lawn, according to Particle. Except instead of grass, it’s working on a beautiful and complex underwater ecosystem.

In order to re-seed the coral reef with larvae, scientists first need to gather that seed in the first place. Back in November, the researchers gathered millions of coral sperm and egg cells for what they called at the time “IVF for coral.”

Planning In Advance

LarvalBot made its first delivery back in December. Now the researchers are planning a second expedition to coincide with the reef’s natural mass spawning period, which will happen in October into November.

When that happens, LarvalBot will dive down, dropping millions of larvae that the researchers hope will be able to take root as brand new coral.

READ MORE: ROBOTS TO THE RESCUE OF THE GREAT BARRIER REEF [Particle]

More on the coral reef: To Protect Endangered Coral Reefs, Researchers Need Legal Recourse

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Undersea Robots Are Helping Save the Great Barrier Reef

Walmart Is Rolling Out Floor-Cleaning Robots in 1,500 Stores

Walmart is sending autonomous custodial robots to 1,500 stores in a play to cut down on the tasks human employees have to face.

Clean Many Robots

Walmart is about to bring worker robots to a third of its stores.

Of the corporation’s 4,600 U.S. locations, 1,500 are about to start using floor-cleaning custodial robots and 300 will use the bots to spot empty shelves, according to The Wall Street Journal. It’s a move that could save human employees a lot of time, but also one that signals that Walmart considers sees human employees and their salaries as circumventable expenses.

Time To Pivot

“With automation, we are able to take away some of the tasks that associates don’t enjoy doing,” Mark Propes, a Walmart operations director, told the WSJ. “At the same time, we continue to open up new jobs in other things in the store.”

Those other jobs are likely related to e-commerce, WSJ reports, as Walmart plans to pivot to more online sales in an attempt to challenge Amazon.

READ MORE: Walmart Is Rolling Out the Robots [The Wall Street Journal]

More on Walmart: Walmart Is About to Deploy Hundreds of Robot Janitors

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Walmart Is Rolling Out Floor-Cleaning Robots in 1,500 Stores

Zapping Elderly People’s Brains Supercharges Their Working Memory

Electrically stimulating the brains of people in their 60s and 70s allowed them to perform as well on working memory tasks as 20-somethings.

Memory Games

Stimulating the brains of elderly people with electrical currents allowed them to perform just as well on a memory test as people in their 20s — a sign that researchers may have found a noninvasive way to turn back the hands of time when it comes to human memory.

“It’s opening up a whole new avenue of potential research and treatment options,” researcher Rob Reinhart said in a press release regarding the study, “and we’re super excited about it.”

All Ages

In a study published in the journal Nature Neuroscience on Monday, researchers from Boston University detail how they asked a group of 20-somethings and a group of people in their 60s and 70s to complete a task designed to test their working memory, which is the part of our short-term memory that we use for reasoning and decision-making.

Working memory typically begins declining around the time we hit 30 years old, so as expected, the people in their 20s outperformed the older group on the memory task.

Remembrall

However, after the members of the older group received 25 minutes of mild stimulation via scalp electrodes, they performed just as well as the younger participants — and the memory boost still hadn’t subsided by the time the experiment ended 50 minutes later.

According to the researchers, the benefits of this noninvasive treatment could extend beyond those whose working memory has started to succumb to age, too. They found that stimulating the brains of the younger people who performed poorly on the task boosted their memories as well.

READ MORE: As Memories Fade, Can We Supercharge Them Back to Life? [Boston University]

More on memory: Can a Brain Zap Really Boost Your Memory?

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Zapping Elderly People’s Brains Supercharges Their Working Memory

Amazon Is Fighting South American Govs to Control “.Amazon” Domains

Amazon and a coalition of nations in South America are duking it out over who gets the coveted

Ongoing Battle

The deadline has passed for Amazon and a coalition of eight governments in South America to settle a seven-year dispute over the coveted “.amazon” top-level domain.

Both groups want dibs, and neither Amazon nor the countries through which the iconic river runs have agreed to various compromises, according to BBC News. Above all else, the dispute highlights how Amazon has become powerful that it’s becoming embroiled in geopolitical disputes.

Back And Forth

The eight nations, which together form the Amazon Cooperation Treat Organization (ACTO), blocked Amazon’s attempt to claim the domain outright. In ACTO’s proposed deal, Amazon would be allowed to use relevant sites like “kindle.amazon,” but most addresses would be reserved for member nations.

Amazon essentially proposed the opposite, in which each country would get a modified version of the “.amazon” domain.

Not Budging

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) gave Amazon and ACTO until April 7 to settle the dispute. But Business Insider reports that neither group submitted a deal to ICANN by the deadline, which has now been pushed back to April 21.

In 2018, Amazon tried to garner favor by offering $5 million worth of Kindles and web hosting, which ACTO declined.

“We are not looking for financial compensation,” Ecuadorian ambassador Francisco Carrión wrote to ICANN. “Nor are we after ex-gratia concessions to use one or a few second-level domains.”

READ MORE: The nations of the Amazon want the name back [BBC News]

More on Amazon: Lawmakers Don’t Know How to Regulate Amazon’s Delivery Robots

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Amazon Is Fighting South American Govs to Control “.Amazon” Domains

China Is Trying to Scrub Bikinis and Smoking From the Internet

A new story reveals how Chinese live-streaming company Inke uses a combination of human moderators and AI to facilitate government censorship.

Cleaning Cyberspace

On Monday, the South China Morning Post published a story about the content moderation operations at Inke, one of China’s largest live-streaming companies.

The piece offers a rare glimpse at how China’s private sector helps facilitate government censorship. In some cases, that means flagging streams of people smoking or wearing bikinis — content that would likely seem fairly innocuous to an American audience — but in others, it means preventing internet viewers from seeing streams of people committing acts of terrorism or violence.

That’s the same kind of content multinational corporations such as Facebook have had trouble moderating — raising questions about what these Chinese companies have figured out that American ones haven’t.

Evolving Censorship

Inke tasks a team of 1,200 moderators with policing the streams of its 25 million users, according to SCMP.

The moderators watch streams 10- to 15-seconds before they actually go live, and in that time, they’re expected to catch anything “that is against the law and regulations, against mainstream values, and against the company’s values,” Zhi Heng, Inke’s content safety team leader, told the SCMP.

Inke defers to guidelines published by the China Association of Performing Arts to know what content falls under that umbrella, and according to the SCMP story, it ranges from politically sensitive speech and violence to people smoking or wearing bikinis.

The document is updated weekly, however, meaning content that might be acceptable one week could be censored the next, or vice versa.

To make this massive task of censoring content a little more manageable on its human moderators, Inke also employs algorithms and recognition software capable of filtering content into different risk categories.

The company sometimes dedicates just one human reviewer to watching streams considered “low-risk,” such as cooking shows, according to SCMP, while higher-risk streams receive closer scrutiny.

Learning Opportunity

The idea of censoring streams of people smoking cigarettes or wearing bikinis might seem ridiculous to a Western audience.

However, if Inke’s combination of human and AI moderators is effective at flagging the content deemed objectionable in China, it’s worth considering what it’s doing that others, such as Facebook, aren’t. Are Inke’s algorithms better in some discernible way? Has it stumbled upon the optimum human moderator-to-user ratio?

You might not agree with the content China is censoring, but content moderation isn’t by default objectionable — even Facebook’s own execs believe the company should have prevented the horrific livestream of the Christchurch shooting from reaching its audience, for example.

So perhaps there’s something Facebook and others could learn from how Inke is managing the job of filtering out undesirable online content, even if we don’t agree with China’s definition of undesirable.

READ MORE: No smoking, no tattoos, no bikinis: inside China’s war to ‘clean up’ the internet [South China Morning Post]

More on censorship: China Is Censoring “Genetically Edited Babies” on Social Media

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China Is Trying to Scrub Bikinis and Smoking From the Internet

Scientists Find a New Way to Kickstart Stable Fusion Reactions

A new technique for nuclear fusion can generate plasma without requiring as much space-consuming equipment within a reactor.

Warm Fusion

Scientists from the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory say that they’ve found a new way to start up nuclear fusion reactions.

The new technique, described in research published last month in the journal Physics of Plasmas, provides an alternate means for reactors to convert gas into the superhot plasma that gets fusion reactions going with less equipment taking up valuable lab space — another step in the long road to practical fusion power.

Out With The Old

Right in the center of a tokamak, a common type of experimental nuclear fusion reactor, there’s a large central magnet that helps generate plasma. The new technique, called “transient coaxial helical injection,” does away with the magnet but still generates a stable reaction, freeing up the space taken up by the magnet for other equipment.

“The good news from this study,” Max Planck Institute researcher Kenneth Hammond said in a press release, “is that the projections for startup in large-scale devices look promising.”

READ MORE: Ready, set, go: Scientists evaluate novel technique for firing up fusion-reaction fuel [Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory newsroom via ScienceDaily]

More on nuclear fusion: Scientists Found a New Way to Make Fusion Reactors More Efficient

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Scientists Find a New Way to Kickstart Stable Fusion Reactions

The Israeli Moon Lander Is About to Touch Down

SpaceIL's Moon lander, Beresheet, is expected to touch down on the lunar surface on Thursday, landing Israeli a place in the history books.

Lunar Lander

If all goes according to plan, Israel will earn a place in history on Thursday as the fourth nation ever to land a spacecraft on the Moon — and unlike any craft that came before it, this Moon lander was privately funded.

Beresheet is the work of SpaceIL, a nonprofit Israeli space company. On Feb. 21, the company launched its $100 million spacecraft on a journey to the Moon aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, and on April 4, it settled into the Moon’s orbit.

The next step in the mission is for Beresheet to attempt to land on the surface of the Moon sometime between 3 and 4 p.m. ET on Thursday.

Watch Along

Beresheet’s target landing site is in the northeastern part of Mare Serenitatis, also known as the Sea of Serenity.

“On the basis of our experience with Apollo, the Serenitatis sites favor both landing safety and scientific reward,” SpaceIL team member Jim Head said in a press release.

SpaceIL and Israel Aerospace Industries, the company that built Beresheet, will live-stream Thursday’s touch-down attempt, so the world will have a chance to watch along as Israel tries to land itself a spot in the history books.

READ MORE: Israel’s Beresheet space probe prepares for historic moon landing [NBC News]

More on Beresheet: Israel’s Moon Lander Just Got Photobombed by the Earth

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The Israeli Moon Lander Is About to Touch Down

Some People Are Exceptionally Good at Predicting the Future

Some people are adept at forecasting, predicting the likelihood of future events, and a new contest aims to suss them out.

Super-Forecasters

Some people have a knack for accurately predicting the likelihood of future events. You might even be one of these “super-forecasters” and not know it — but now there’s an easy way to find out.

BBC Future has teamed up with UK-based charity Nesta and forecasting services organization Good Judgement on the “You Predict the Future” challenge. The purpose is to study how individuals and teams predict the likelihood of certain events, ranging from the technological to the geopolitical.

All Winners

Anyone interested in testing their own forecasting skills can sign up for the challenge to answer a series of multiple-choice questions and assign a percentage to how likely each answer is to come true.

“When you’re part of the challenge, you’ll get feedback on how accurate your forecasts are,” Kathy Peach, who leads Nesta’s Centre for Collective Intelligence Design, told BBC Future. “You’ll be able to see how well you do compared to other forecasters. And there’s a leader board, which shows who the best performing forecasters are.”

Collective Intelligence

You’ll also be helping advance research on collective intelligence, which focuses on the intellectual abilities of groups of people acting as one.

Additionally, as Peach told BBC Future, “New research shows that forecasting increases open-mindedness, the ability to consider alternative scenarios, and reduces political polarisation,”  — meaning even if you don’t find out you’re a “super-forecaster,” you might just end up a better person after making your predictions.

READ MORE: Could you be a super-forecaster? [BBC Future]

More on forecasting: Forecasting the Future: Can the Hive Mind Let Us Predict the Future?

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Some People Are Exceptionally Good at Predicting the Future

Amazon Workers Listen to Your Alexa Conversations, Then Mock Them

A new Bloomberg piece shared the experiences of Amazon workers tasked with listening to Alexa recordings, and what they hear isn't always mundane.

I Hear You

Amazon pays thousands of workers across the globe to review audio picked up by its Echo speakers — and their behavior raises serious concerns about both privacy and safety.

Bloomberg recently spoke with seven people who participated in Amazon’s audio review process. Each worker was tasked with listening to, transcribing, and annotating voice recordings with the goal of improving the ability of Amazon’s Alexa smart assistant to understand and respond to human speech.

But sometimes, according to Bloomberg, they share private recordings in a disrespectful way.

“I think we’ve been conditioned to the [assumption] that these machines are just doing magic machine learning” University of Michigan professor Florian Schaub told Bloomberg. “But the fact is there is still manual processing involved.”

Listen to This

The job is usually boring, according to Bloomberg’s sources. But if they heard something out of the ordinary, they said, sometimes they’d share the Alexa recordings with other workers via internal chat rooms.

Occasionally, it was just because they found the audio amusing — a person singing off-key, for example — but other times, the sharing was “a way of relieving stress” after hearing something disturbing, such as when two of Bloomberg’s sources heard what sounded like a sexual assault.

When they asked Amazon how to handle cases like the latter, the workers said they were told “it wasn’t Amazon’s job to interfere.” Amazon, meanwhile, said it had procedures in place for when workers hear something “distressing” in Alexa recordings.

READ MORE: Amazon Workers Are Listening to What You Tell Alexa [Bloomberg]

More on Echo: Thanks, Amazon! Echo Recorded and Sent Audio to Random Contacts Without Warning

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Amazon Workers Listen to Your Alexa Conversations, Then Mock Them

Scientists Say New Quantum Material Could “‘Download’ Your Brain”

A new type of quantum material can directly measure neural activity and translate it into electrical signals for a computer.

Computer Brain

Scientists say they’ve developed a new “quantum material” that could one day transfer information directly from human brains to a computer.

The research is in early stages, but it invokes ideas like uploading brains to the cloud or hooking people up to a computer to track deep health metrics — concepts that until now existed solely in science fiction.

Quantum Interface

The new quantum material, described in research published Wednesday in the journal Nature Communications, is a “nickelate lattice” that the scientists say could directly translate the brain’s electrochemical signals into electrical activity that could be interpreted by a computer.

“We can confidently say that this material is a potential pathway to building a computing device that would store and transfer memories,” Purdue University engineer Shriram Ramanathan told ScienceBlog.

Running Diagnostics

Right now, the new material can only detect the activity of some neurotransmitters — so we can’t yet upload a whole brain or anything like that. But if the tech progresses, the researchers hypothesize that it could be used to detect neurological diseases, or perhaps even store memories.

“Imagine putting an electronic device in the brain, so that when natural brain functions start deteriorating, a person could still retrieve memories from that device,” Ramanathan said.

READ MORE: New Quantum Material Could Warn Of Neurological Disease [ScienceBlog]

More on brain-computer interface: This Neural Implant Accesses Your Brain Through the Jugular Vein

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Scientists Say New Quantum Material Could “‘Download’ Your Brain”

Infertile Couple Gives Birth to “Three-Parent Baby”

A Greek couple just gave birth to a three-parent baby, the first conceived as part of a clinical trial to treat infertility.

Happy Birthday

On Tuesday, a couple gave birth to what researchers are calling a “three-parent baby” — giving new hope to infertile couples across the globe.

After four cycles of in vitro fertilization failed to result in a pregnancy, the Greek couple enrolled in a clinical trial for mitochondrial replacement therapy (MRT) — meaning doctors placed the nucleus from the mother’s egg into a donor egg that had its nucleus removed. Then they fertilized the egg with sperm from the father and implanted it into the mother.

Due to this procedure, the six-pound baby boy has DNA from both his mother and father, as well as a tiny bit from the woman who donated the egg.

Greek Life

The Greek baby wasn’t the first “three-parent baby” born after his parents underwent MRT — that honor goes to the offspring of a Jordanian woman who gave birth in 2016.

However, in her case and others that followed it, doctors used the technique to prevent a baby from inheriting a parent’s genetic defect. This marked the first time a couple used MRT as part of a clinical trial to treat infertility.

“Our excellent collaboration and this exceptional result will help countless women to realise their dream of becoming mothers with their own genetic material,” Nuno Costa-Borges, co-founder of Embryotools, one of the companies behind the trial, said in a statement.

READ MORE: Baby with DNA from three people born in Greece [The Guardian]

More on three-parent babies: An Infertile Couple Is Now Pregnant With a “Three-Parent Baby”

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Infertile Couple Gives Birth to “Three-Parent Baby”

MIT Prof: If We Live in a Simulation, Are We Players or NPCs?

An MIT scientist asks whether we're protagonists in a simulated reality or so-called NPCs who exist to round out a player character's experience. 

Simulation Hypothesis

Futurism readers may recognize Rizwan Virk as the MIT researcher touting a new book arguing that we’re likely living in a game-like computer simulation.

Now, in new interview with Vox, Virk goes even further — by probing whether we’re protagonists in the simulation or so-called “non-player characters” who are presumably included to round out a player character’s experience.

Great Simulation

Virk speculated about whether we’re players or side characters when Vox writer Sean Illing asked a question likely pondered by anyone who’s seen “The Matrix”: If you were living in a simulation, would you actually want to know?

“Probably the most important question related to this is whether we are NPCs (non-player characters) or PCs (player characters) in the video game,” Virk told Vox. “If we are PCs, then that means we are just playing a character inside the video game of life, which I call the Great Simulation.”

More Frightening

It’s a line of inquiry that cuts to the core of the simulation hypothesis: If the universe is essentially a video game, who built it — and why?

“The question is, are all of us NPCs in a simulation, and what is the purpose of that simulation?” Virk asked. “A knowledge of the fact that we’re in a simulation, and the goals of the simulation and the goals of our character, I think, would still be interesting to many people.”

READ MORE: Are we living in a computer simulation? I don’t know. Probably. [Vox]

More on the simulation hypothesis: Famous Hacker Thinks We’re Living in Simulation, Wants to Escape

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