Monthly Archives: July 2011

The internet is affecting the nature of our memory, research suggests

The way the internet affects human memory has been quantified in a new study – and the findings suggest that it is changing the way our brains remember information.

The scientists behind this research say the internet has become a “transactive memory” for us. In other words, we treat the internet like an external memory – a storage place or a memory bank that exists outside of our heads.

In experiments carried out at Columbia University, participants’ ability to recall answers to quiz questions was poor when told the answers would later be available on a computer. 

A stream of facts was presented to a group of participants – half were told the facts would be stored in computer files, while the other half were told the facts would be erased completely. When tested on their ability to recall the facts, those who knew the information would be erased had a far better recall than those who filed the information away.

However, the group who had the information stored away on a computer were remarkably good at remembering the folders in which they had stored the information.

Columbia University’s Dr Betsy Sparrow concluded: “This suggests that for the things we can find online, we tend keep it online as far as memory is concerned – we keep it externally stored.”

We are a generation that is becoming increasingly reliant on computers to think for us, find facts for us, and remember information for us. Will this over-reliance on the internet eventually make us lazy and stupid? Dr. Sparrow reassures us: “I don’t think [the internet] is making us stupid – we’re just changing the way that we’re remembering things.”

Full story: BBC News


UK knocked out of Robot Soccer World Cup

The UK’s strongest team of football-playing robots has been eliminated from the World Cup in the group stages. The competition is called Robocup, and is an annual event that has been growing in competitors and popularity since its inauguration in 1997. This year’s finals were held in Istanbul, Turkey.

The UK team coach, Edinburgh University’s Dr Subramanian Ramamoorthy, attributed the team’s failure to software, strategy, and inexperience. However, he feels the team (called Edinferno, comprising four robots) had achieved its goals for the tournament, and will come back strong next year. 

“Almost all the bugs that stopped us were because we were not match ready. I suspect we are one of the few that are here for their first year. Until this year there was no British team, and we learned that our core technology is not that bad even though we have not been very successful,” he explained.

All the robots competing at Robocup are autonomous – they play with their own software intelligence. They may seem a little slow and a little clumsy, but the ultimate long-term goal of Robocup is to produce robots that can defeat a team of human players. The target is to produce a robot team that will beat a human Fifa World Cup-winning team by the year 2050, and Dr Ramamoorthy believes this is achievable.

“I think we could get there. We can make robots that can win that game as all the pieces are here … However, if we did get there, the result would not be just about football. If you had robots that could win that game they would be useful for so many other things,” he said.

Above: video of the Robocup 2011 Adult Size Final. The final score was 1-0 to Virginia Tech’s robot named CHARLI.

Full story: BBC News

Official site of Robocup 2011:

If cows had digestive systems of kangaroos, Global Warming could be prevented

Cows are bad news for the environment. They emit enormous amounts of methane gas, and this contributes massively to the Greenhouse Effect. If only they could take a leaf out of the kangaroo’s book…

Grazing animals such as kangaroos or wallabies have very similar digestive systems to cows: they all process food in multiple stomach pouches, let microbes in one pouch do most of the work, and the fermentation of the food produces methane.

But there is a significant difference: kangaroos and wallabies are far more efficient with their emissions. In fact, the average wallaby will emit 80% less methane than the average cow from the same amount of plant matter. Scientists have recently found why this happens. They have isolated a type of bacteria, called WG-1, that grows in the guts of Tammar Wallabies, and believe this is the key to low methane production. Upon analysing the way it broke down plant matter, they found it produced a substance called succinate, which isn’t found in high-methane-producing ruminant animal guts – i.e. animals such as cows.

So, if scientists were able to turn a cow’s digestive system into a kangaroo’s digetsive system, a major cause of Climate Change would be significantly reduced. Or maybe humans should just start eating kangaroos instead of cows.  

Full story: IO9 Science