Human or android? You know in less than a second

It can be hard to tell the difference between humans and androids in science-fiction TV shows like Westworld. But in real life, the human brain takes less than a second to tell between reality and fantasy.

“This unique visual mechanism allows us to perceive what’s really alive and what’s simulated in just 250 milliseconds.”

The findings show that humans are visually wired to speedily take in information and make a snap judgment about what’s real.

Scientists have discovered a visual mechanism they call “ensemble lifelikeness perception,” which determines how we perceive groups of objects and people in real and virtual or artificial worlds.

“This unique visual mechanism allows us to perceive what’s really alive and what’s simulated in just 250 milliseconds,” says lead author Allison Yamanashi Leib, a postdoctoral scholar in psychology at the University of California, Berkeley. “It also guides us to determine the overall level of activity in a scene.”

To keep us sane, brain ignores tiny visual changes

Vision scientists have long assumed that humans need to carefully consider multiple details before they can judge if a person or object is lifelike. “But our study shows that participants made animacy decisions without conscious deliberation, and that they agreed on what was lifelike and what was not,” says senior author David Whitney, professor of psychology.

“It is surprising that, even without talking about it or deliberating about it together, we immediately share in our impressions of lifelikeness.”

Using ensemble perception, study participants could also make snap judgments about the liveliness of groups of objects or people or entire scenes, without focusing on all the individual details, Whitney says.

“In real life, tourists, shoppers, and partiers all use visual cues processed through ensemble perception to gauge where the action is at,” Yamanashi Leib says.

Distraction skews actions and perceptions differently

Moreover, if we didn’t possess the ability to speedily determine lifelikeness, our world would be very confusing, with every person, animal, or object we see appearing to be equally alive, Whitney adds.

For the study in Nature Communications, researchers conducted 12 separate experiments on a total of 68 healthy adults with normal vision. In the majority of trials, participants viewed up to a dozen images of random people, animals, and objects including an ice cream sundae, a guinea pig wearing a shirt, a hockey player, a statue of a wooly mammoth, a toy car carrying toy passengers, a caterpillar, and more.

Participants quickly viewed groups of images, then rated them on a scale of 1 to 10 according to their average lifelikeness. Participants accurately assessed the average lifelikeness of the groups, even those displayed for less than 250 milliseconds.

In another experiment to test participants’ memory for details, researchers flashed images, then showed them ones that participants had seen as well as ones they had not. The results indicated that while participants had forgotten a lot of details, their “ensemble perception” of what had been lifelike remained sharp.

“This suggests that the visual system favors abstract global impressions such as lifelikeness at the expense of the fine details,” Whitney says. “We perceive the forest, and how alive it is, but not the trees.”

Source: UC Berkeley

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People over 80 who use technology feel healthier

Adults over 80 who use technology, like cellphones and computers, to stay connected report higher levels of both mental and physical well-being.

“Critics say that people might not be able to connect with others as well as they used to because of the spread of new technologies,” says Tamara Sims, a research scientist at the Stanford University Center on Longevity.

“There really is this bright side of technology, especially for older people.”

“But there really is this bright side of technology, especially for older people, who may not have the opportunity to connect with many family members to the extent they want to due to physical limitations or geographical separation.”

Specifically, the study shows that adults over the age of 80 are likely to report using technology because it helps them connect with friends and family. Also, those who reported using technology to primarily connect with loved ones reported higher mental well-being and those who said they used technology mostly to learn new information reported being more physically fit.

65 vs. 80

The population of people age 80 and older is the fastest growing segment in the United States, but there are relatively few scientific studies about them compared to other age groups, Sims says.

“It’s critical that we focus our attention on this age group because they are a ballooning demographic subgroup, but also because more and more of us are increasingly likely to reach very old age,” Sims says.

Previous studies have shown some association between social media use and better health among older adults, particularly lower levels of depression and loneliness. But most studies on the older population focus on adults over 65 years old, and tend to underrepresent people who are older than 80.

It’s important to distinguish between the populations who are over 65 and those who are over 80, also referred to as the “oldest-old,” Sims says.

“These are different life stages, and they come with their own sets of challenges.  At 65, people are typically entering retirement, and are likely still socially engaged. For those over 80, people typically begin to face more and more health problems, which may prevent them from engaging with others as often as they would like. It’s important to look at these populations separately.”

Lots of older adults use Facebook for ‘surveillance’

Aside from narrowing their focus to adults over 80, the researchers wanted to distinguish among the reasons why the oldest-old use technology and examine different aspects of their well-being: physical and mental wellness.

Published in the journal Gerontology: Psychological Sciences, the study’s analysis was guided by the socio-emotional selectivity theory, which suggests that as people age, they perceive time as more limited and prioritize meaningful interactions with their loved ones over learning new information or meeting new people.

Researchers surveyed a nationally representative sample of 445 participants, ages between 80 and 93, online and over the phone. The respondents were asked about their motivation for using information and communication technology, including cellphones, personal computers, video streaming services, and other digital applications. The respondents were also asked how many devices they used and to rate their physical and mental well-being.

When Sims started the research, she didn’t expect to find much of a correlation between technology use and well-being because adults over 80 are considered to be the most unfamiliar with these technologies and are least likely to use them.

Forget the stereotypes

“I was going into it a little bit skeptical,” Sims says. “Part of me wondered whether the use of technology would make much of a difference for this population because pervasive stereotypes characterize this age group as technologically inept, in addition to being physically and cognitively frail.”

Contrary to these stereotypes, most of the adults over 80 who were surveyed used at least one technological device regularly, and doing so was related to higher levels of self-reported physical and mental well-being. The effect on mental well-being persisted when researchers statistically controlled for physical well-being, and vice versa.

Your risk of dying hinges on well-being not diseases

“This group is viable for intervention,” Sims says. “I don’t think many people are spending time thinking about it. The key here is that if you get them using these technologies, we could probably see some real benefits to quality of life in very old age.”

But Sims emphasized the correlational nature of the study’s results.

“We can’t say that using technology will directly improve the well-being of people over age 80. But our findings are suggestive of a viable pathway and may help to inform longitudinal interventions.”

Future studies are needed to compare the impact of in-person social interactions and those done through technology among the oldest-old. Specific effects of different types of technology, such as using a cellphone, a social media platform, or video conferencing, would also be interesting to examine, Sims says.

Other researchers from Stanford and from Florida State University are coauthors of the work that was supported in part by Brookdale Senior Living.

Source: Stanford University

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For people under 50, mutation may raise Parkinson’s risk

A defect in a gene that produces dopamine in the brain appears to accelerate the onset of Parkinson’s disease. The effect is particularly dramatic for people under age 50.

Researchers found on average that Caucasians with one bad version of the gene—guanosine triphosphate cyclohydrolase-1 or GCH1—developed Parkinson’s symptoms five years earlier, and had a 23 percent increased risk for the disease.

However, young-to-middle-age adults with the mutation had a 45 percent increased risk of developing Parkinson’s disease. The presence of the defective gene in older adults had minimal effect.

Researchers know that rigidity and loss of muscle function associated with Parkinson’s is linked to a depletion of dopamine in the part of the brain that controls movement. For the current study scientists wanted to take a more holistic approach to better understand how the gene affects the course of the disease and certain outcomes such as motor skills and anxiety.

Gut may be key to preventing Parkinson’s

Published in the journal Neurobiology of Aging, the study is the first to look at these different biological markers, as well has how the gene’s impact on dopamine production specifically affects Caucasian populations. Previous studies have focused primarily on Chinese and Taiwanese populations. The findings have the potential to help personalize medical care for people with a family history of Parkinson’s disease, similar to testing for the BRCA gene for women at risk for breast cancer.

“We want to have a more comprehensive understanding of what these genes related to Parkinson’s are doing at different points in someone’s lifetime,” says Auriel Willette, assistant professor of food science and human nutrition at Iowa State University. “Then, with genetic testing we can determine the risk for illness based on someone’s age, gender, weight, and other intervening factors.”

Data for the study were collected through the Parkinson’s Progression Markers Initiative, a public-private partnership sponsored by the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research. The initiative evaluates people with the disease to develop new and better treatments. The new study included 289 people recently diagnosed with Parkinson’s, but not on medication, and 233 healthy people.

MRI may offer drug-free way to track Parkinson’s

Researchers analyzed anxiety and motor function using the Unified Parkinson Disease Rating Scale—a tool that measures progression of the disease. They found those with the defective gene, regardless of age, were more anxious and struggled more with daily activities. However, the defective gene was not as strong of a predictor of developing Parkinson’s in people over 50.

“As we age, we progressively make less dopamine, and this effect strongly outweighs the genetic influences from the ‘bad version’ of this gene. Simply by aging, our dopamine production decreases to the point that the effects from a mutation in this gene are not noticeable in older adults, but make a big difference in younger populations,” says Joseph Webb, a graduate research assistant.

It is also important to pay attention to blood cholesterol levels. Cholesterol is directly related to the ability to produce dopamine. High LDL, or what’s considered “bad” cholesterol, is an established risk factor of Parkinson’s. The study shows that carriers of the defective GCH1 gene had higher cholesterol than non-carriers, which was true regardless of age.

Source: Iowa State University

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Three cylinders become two to improve EcoBoost engine efficiency

Ford is chasing better efficiency with its new three-cylinder EcoBoost engine

As downsizing has emerged as one of the best ways to meet tightening emissions rules, Ford has dived in headlong with its range of EcoBoost engines. The small turbo engines feature in everything from Fiesta to F-150, returning small-engine fuel efficiency with big-engine power outputs. Now, the smallest EcoBoost engine is getting smaller – albeit for brief periods of time – thanks to cylinder deactivation.

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Category: Automotive

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High winds and earthquakes should prove no match for a Biodomes home

Biodomes can part-bury the dome to create an earth-sheltered home

The geodesic dome was made famous by Buckminster Fuller in the mid 20th Century and has remained popular with hobbyists ever since. Romania’s Biodomes is the latest in a long line of firms to design houses centered around the geodesic dome and its models can operate off-the-grid and withstand severe earthquakes and winds.

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Category: Architecture

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The 6 best fitness trackers of 2016

New Atlas looks at some of the best fitness trackers available in 2016

Many people strap on a fitness tracker or sportswatch to monitor how active they are, and in the hope it will help motivate them if they turn out to be more sloth-like than they’d expected. But which one is going to be right for you? Here New Atlas looks at some of the best activity and fitness trackers available in 2016.

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Category: Wearables

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Bi-articulating Volvo bus will haul 300 passengers around town

A look at the Volvo Gran Artic 300 chassis, which will eventually be topped with a ...

Volvo unveiled the chassis for what it’s calling the largest bus in the world at the FetransRio exhibition in Rio de Janeiro last week. Destined for service in South America, the Gran Artic 300 will have room for 300 passengers inside its bendy bi-articulating body when it reaches production.

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E-ink display plus wallet equals "Wonder Wallet"

These days, wallets are not just for carrying money around

Thanks to E Ink, virtually anything can be used as a canvas for creative expression these days. We’ve seen it used in shoes, watches and fashion accessories, and it was only a matter of time before someone came up with the idea to integrate it in wallets. That day has finally arrived with the launch of the Wonder Wallet on Kickstarter.

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Category: Good Thinking

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reMarkable "paper tablet" has sketches, notes and documents in its sights

The reMarkable paper tablet, now available for pre-order, is like a high-end e-reader and drawing tablet ...

Computers may be where the office grunt work gets done, but deep-thought work and conceptualization can still benefit from a bit of scribbling on paper, if for no other reason than avoiding the distractions of notifications, sidebars, open apps and a multitude of open browser tabs. The newly-announced reMarkable “paper tablet” is designed to replace your ancillary papers – notes, sketches and documents included – with one device that offers a convincing real-paper look and feel.

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business practices • Re: Industrial Designer with a Pet products brand – AMA!

Sain wrote:
Do you consider yourself a Businessman first that understands the design process/pipeline. Or a Designer First that knows how to run a business.

I am absolutely a designer first. I do and always have loved business, but not nearly as much as making great stuff.

It can be a bit of a right/left brain challenge to do everything in a company, but like many trained ID’rs I have a pretty good handle on process. Whether it be a design project or a business project, the ID process can be applied well.

Before getting my Masters in ID at Pratt, I studied Art and Small Business Management, so I’ve had some exposure. But learning on the job is much more comprehensive/real/challenging.