Great, now we know how slowly death creeps up on us


Great, now we know how slowly death creeps up on us

Health and science briefs of the week

Tymon Smith

THE SPEED OF DEATH? TWO MILLIMETRES AN HOURScientists at Stanford University in the US have quantified the speed at which cells “kill themselves off for an organism’s greater good”. By studying frog’s eggs, systems biologists have recorded the rate of apoptosis (cell death) at 30 micrometres a minute.
Humans lose about 50 billion cells a day as part of a natural process but sometimes the body “gets confused” and so in the case of diseases such as Alzheimer’s cells that are needed are killed off or, in the case of cancer, cells which should be killed off are not.
It’s hoped that by being able to accurately measure the speed of cell death and the manner in which they are killed, biomedical interventions can be made to prevent cells from dying or when necessary encourage them to die so as to overcome diseases like Alzheimer’s and cancer.
So thank you to our froggy friends – as anyone who grew up with Paul McCartney’s song knows, “bom bom bom padia … we all stand together.”DON’T STARE AT THE SUN … OR YOUR PHONEParents now have science to help them enforce their pleas for their kids to stop looking at their phones all the bloody time. According to new research conducted by scientists at the University of Toledo – the blue light that emanates from our phones and computers is causing changes to the cells in our eyes and could hasten the onset of blindness.
Put as simply as these things can be, the light from electronic screens, similar to that which comes from the sun, triggers toxic reactions in the molecules in the retinas that sense light. These reactions destroy photo-receptors in the eye that cannot be restored. The result is macular degeneration, an eye disease that has no cure and leads to blindness, usually in your 50s or 60s.The researchers hope their findings may help the development of therapies to slow macular degeneration such as new kinds of eye drops but in the meantime (while you’re reading this on your phone) they advise that people wear UV filter sunglasses and avoid using digital devices at night when the light they transmit is brightest.
The US National Sleep Foundation has found that blue light can interfere with sleep patterns because it reduces the body’s ability to create melatonin and recommends that you stay away from your incredibly important digital devices at least 30 minutes before going to bed. So it’s time for Netflix and actually chill, like really, just chill. 
It’s not the first thing you read about in the increasingly jubilant press releases from tech companies about the leaps being made in the field of artificial intelligence, but thanks to a committed group of spare-time enthusiasts, robots may be developing a sense of humour.
According to a recent article in the New York Times, the idea of using computers to tickle the funny bone has a longer history than you might think: “In the early 1990s, researchers at the University of Edinburgh wrote a program that could produce question-based puns such as “What do you call a good looking taxi? A handsome cab.” A bad joke but a joke nonetheless.Some 28 years later and “around a dozen people in Europe and North America are working on similar projects, mainly in their spare time from AI-related jobs.” People like 39-year-old Polish born programmer Piotr Mirowski, who has developed a system called Artificial Language Experiment  which was fed “the subtitles from more than 100,000 films, from action movies like Deep Impact, to the pornographic film Deep Throat. When spoken to, the system uses these subtitles to create its own response.
Mirowski recently demonstrated the comic potential of his creation in improv performances consisting of awkward interactions between the robot and its creator. While some of these got laughs, there’s as yet no guarantee and Mirowski described working with an AI as “still like having a “completely drunk comedian” on stage, who was only “accidentally funny,” by saying things that were totally inappropriate, overly emotional or plain odd.”Those who make their money from the arts have raised concerns that AI could replace even them, with the recent development of painting and singing machines, but it seems that, for now, it’ll be a while yet before parents start discouraging their kids from taking up standup comedy as a solid career choice.

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