In Russia, a new presidential decree came into force on August 6, requiring any ‘contraband’ food products that have crossed the border to be destroyed. The same day, the internet was inundated with photos of people scrabbling for peaches, oranges and cheese, which had escaped being buried by bulldozers. While food imports from western countries are being destroyed in massive quantities, many citizens cannot afford to feed themselves – 23 million Russian citizens live below the poverty line. Ivan Zhilin speaks to families struggling to survive beneath the breadline.
Advertising giant M&C Saatchi is currently testing advertising billboards with hidden cameras that read emotions and react according to whether a person’s facial expression is happy, sad or neutral. Through reading facial expressions, adverts are able to bypass the guesswork and make direct use of our emotions. Is this creative? Creepy? Or a taste of the future? Andrew McStay considers what these billboards signal about artificially intelligent advertising campaigns of the future.
Emojis – those ubiquitous smileys, winks and love hearts that have been popping up on smartphones and social media around the world since 2011 - are about to leap on to the silver screen, after Sony Pictures announced it had bought the rights to a film project about the colourful glyphs. Linguistics professor Vyvyan Evans considers the world-domination of emojis – there’s now a World Emoji Day (July 17, if you wondered) – and what an emoji film might turn out like.
With the murder of a pregnant woman and her six children, Russia’s domestic violence epidemic again made headlines … but only briefly. Three Russian policemen have been charged with criminal negligence for ignoring the woman’s earlier pleas for help regarding her husband’s violent behaviour. In a country where victims of domestic violence are regularly vilified, her story is tragically not uncommon. Russia needs domestic violence legislation, and fast, says journalist Natalia Antonova.
“The death penalty is broken and it cannot be fixed,” says law professor Brandon L. Garrett in an opinion piece that examines the flaws in America’s death penalty – an issue over which the US Supreme Court and public remains divided. Garrett emphasises the inherent problems of confession evidence, on which death penalty cases often heavily rely. He points to a number of cases where false confessions have been disproven years later by DNA testing.
An American trophy hunter has kicked off another social media furore after defending a recent giraffe kill in South Africa by claiming they are “very dangerous animals”. Contrary to her claims, the long-necked herbivores are increasingly in danger from people. In 1999 there were an estimated 140,000 giraffes in Africa – today the Giraffe Conservation Foundation estimates there are only 80,000 left. A popular target for bushmeat poachers, such a rapid decline suggests giraffes may soon qualify as being vulnerable to extinction, writes conservation expert Matt Hayward.
Many scientists believe that anything sent into a black hole would probably be destroyed. But new research suggests that a person falling into a black hole would actually be absorbed into a hologram – without even noticing. The paper challenges a rival theory stating that anybody falling into a black hole hits a “firewall” and is immediately destroyed. Professor Marika Taylor explains.
Dinosaurs are back, on the big screen at least, as Jurassic World comes crashing into cinemas with a new dino star - a genetically-engineered hybrid, ominously named Indominus Rex. In the wake of the original 1993 Jurassic Park, scientists were unanimously emphatic that there was no way on earth dinosaurs could ever be resurrected. But according to PhD Candidate Elizabeth Jones, the film franchise, to some extent, did actually drive and develop the science and technology of ancient DNA research. As a knock on effect, questions are also being raised about the possibility of mammoth de-extinction, and the ethics surrounding it.
Some wild west African chimpanzees are teetotallers, whereas others are frequent drinkers given the opportunity – consuming the equivalent of three pints of strong lager per day. A new scientific study lends support to the drunken monkey hypothesis, which suggests humans and their primate relatives are attracted to the smell of alcohol because in our common evolutionary history this indicates the presence of energy rich, albeit fermenting fruits. This could help explain why people and some primates become addicted to alcohol writes Wildlife Conservation Professor Robert John Young, who also discovers if any species, other than humans, regularly drinks to intoxication.
From Star Wars and Alien to Futurama, the idea that humans can be frozen in time in order to be awoken later is a well-established sci-fi trope. While stopping biological time or inducing long-term hibernation is still as far off as the long-distance space travel that it’s associated with, the research around it is of huge scientific and medical importance, says chemistry professor Matthew Gibson. His research is inspired by the so called antifreeze glycoproteins that enable frogs and fish to survive in subzero temperatures – and he points out that we can already freeze and store cells, tissues and organs.
Vampires walk among us. But these people aren’t the stuff of nightmares – far from it actually. John Edgar Browning has spent five years conducting ethnographic studies of the “real vampires” living in New Orleans and Buffalo. While they don’t turn into bats or live forever, many do sport fangs and just as many live a primarily nocturnal existence. These are just some of the cultural markers real vampires adopt to express a shared (and, according to them, biological) essence – they need blood (human or animal) or psychic energy from donors in order to feel healthy. The real vampire community spreads across the world, from Russia and South Africa to England and the United States. Particularly in the internet age, vampires are often well attuned to community issues.
In an opinion piece, Sustainable Construction expert Peter Wilson argues that the sky’s the limit when it comes to wooden engineering structures. Thanks to new manufacturing technologies and developments in engineered wood products, architects and engineers are thinking differently about the opportunities wood offers in the structure and construction of tall buildings. These provide strength, stability and, importantly, a convenient way of locking in considerable volumes of atmospheric carbon dioxide. The tallest modern timber building in North America is the Wood Innovation and Design Centre at the University of North British Columbia which, which stands at 29.25 metres (roughly eight storeys) tall.
New research suggests that bilinguals can view the world in different ways depending on the specific language they are operating in, writes Panos Athanasopoulos, Professor of Linguistics and English Language at Lancaster University. For example, he says the worldview assumed by German speakers is a holistic one – they tend to look at the event as a whole – whereas English speakers tend to zoom in on the event and focus only on the action. People also say they feel like a different person when using their different languages and that expressing certain emotions carries different emotional resonance depending on the language they are using.
The potential cognitive benefits of gaming – such as helping us make quicker decisions, think more fluidly and avoid distractions – has led to a flurry of research in recent years. Some results indicate benefits for gaming and some, such as a recent US study reported in the journal Psychological Science, do not. Examining past gaming research and hypotheses, Bradley C. Love, Professor of Cognitive and Decision Sciences at UCL, discusses whether the idea that gaming can improve brain power is reality or hype.
Around the world, there are more than 50 million displaced and 16 million refugees. Capacities and resources in host countries are being stretched to breaking point and an overflow of desperate migrants attempting the perilous journey to Europe by sea in search of protection is increasing. To deal with this global displacement crisis, Alexander Betts, Professor in Refugee and Forced Migration Studies at University of Oxford, says that political leadership and large-scale international cooperation is needed. “We need a European resettlement scheme that reflects a commitment to proportionately share responsibility for the global refugee population.”
The death of Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old black man, while in police custody spawned two days of intense riots in Baltimore. Gray’s death tipped Baltimore into turmoil, Nicholas Sharrer says his death is not the cause of the rioting. Rather, the city’s municipal legacy of racial segregation, its impact on slum housing and a general failure to provide healthy, affordable housing for its working-class Black population have cultivated feelings of anger and hopelessness in many of Baltimore’s young people.
Relaying iconic images of astronomical pillars of gas and dust, views of galaxies soon after they were formed, and an accelerating universe driven by Dark Energy has made The Hubble Space Telescope undoubtedly one of the most popular science projects today. But that wasn’t always the case. C Robert O’Dell was Chief Scientist on the Hubble Space Telescope project. Twenty five years after its launch, he explains what it took to get the project off the ground in the 1980s.
To counteract terrorism, military force and policing is a default tactic – and talking to terrorists, by contrast, may feel counter-intuitive. But a recent debate organised by a UK university between a former terrorist, the daughter of terrorist attack victim and experts on extreme violence has found that creating a dialogue with terrorists can bring their violence to an end. It means understanding terrorism, and the individual motivations behind their actions, in an entirely new way. “Talking to terrorists does not imply blind acceptance of their motivations or methods … [it] allows individuals who use violence … to see the consequences of their actions on a human scale, not a political one.”
For the uninitiated, game theory is a branch of maths that looks at problems of competition and co-operation. It assumes basic rationality and then looks at what each of the parties will achieve in a situation, conditional on other parties wanting to do their best also. But can it predict who will end up on the Iron Throne? As massive hit series Game of Thrones returns, UCL’s Peter Antonioni uses mathematical models to examine the behaviour of George R R Martin’s characters.
Capturing the world’s imagination over the last five years, Apple’s iPad has fundamentally changed the way we think about computing – we now expect to be able to directly interact with screens without the help of a keyboard or mouse. Jason Alexander, Lecturer in Human-Computer Interaction at Lancaster University, says the next revolution is just around the corner. Soon, he claims, we will be dealing with screens that can morph in three dimensions. Flat screens will soon be able to change themselves into other shapes.