Skeptikai Notices (Aug9) – Video games, news, hacking, Japan, science

Video Games:

Robots use Kinect to understand our world – Robots can’t view the world like we do, but technology is advancing, and soon they may be able to understand it enough to convince us that they can experience it similar to us. Researchers at Cornell University’s Robot Learning Lab have manipulated the Kinect system – created essentially for entertainment purposes for Microsoft’s Xbox 360 video game console – so that the robots could image their environments in “colored 3D pointclouds.” The accompanying video shows the world as they see it. The robots can locate objects, and robotics will probably be advancing exponentially, now that we have examples of robots learning skills through reinforcement – such as the robotic arm that learned to flip pancakes after 50 trials.

Female Gamers Have More Sex – This should really say “female gamers have more sex than females non-gamers,” as opposed to… well, male gamers. It’s true, the results are surprising, but they are not particularly robust, and there were only 200 respondents to the survey. Still, it’s an interesting comparison I never even thought about. Hopefully more scientific research investigates this, rather than an online game-rental company.

Meet the 99-year-old video game master – Japanese gamer Umeji Narisawa has been playing the first version of “Bomberman” (for the NES, or Famicon as it’s known in Japan) since she was 73, and has continued ever since. She credits it with keeping her mentally sharp, as well as keeping her fingers strong. Check out this brief and interesting article.

Computer Learns Language by Playing Games – Researchers at University College London developed a system where a computer learned the rules of a strategy-based game (i.e., you really have to think, not just shoot people), Civilization, where players take a small city and turn it into a powerful empire. The computer learned the rules and developed a strategy from the player’s manual – a book that gives general advice and tips, which players are free to incorporate in their own strategies. After implementing strategy from the information in the player’s manual, the rate of victory increased from 46% to 79%.

News:

London riots: violence escalates across London – A riot started from the killing of 29-year-old Mark Duggan by the Metropolitan Police Service on August 6. The riots have continued on, and are becoming increasingly violent. There is an alarming amount of looting and vandalism, and the problems are being exacerbated by the tension between the police and the black community in North London – particularly Tottenham, where the killing occurred. Major investigations are now being conducted, and over a hundred people have been arrested.

Stocks plummet amid fallout from S&P downgrade of U.S. credit – It’s not good news for the U.S. In fact, it’s not good news for anybody. A few days ago, the American-based financial services company Standard & Poor downgraded the U.S., economy from AAA (the best, which is what countries like France, Canada, and England have) to AA+ (the next best, on par with New Zealand and Belgium). Now, billions of dollars are being reduced in banks all over the country, but the U.S. is not the only country feeling the impact. China, in particular, is furious.

Bothaina Kamel: Egypt’s first female presidential candidate – Having ended the horrible Egyptian regime under Hosni Mubarak, a democratic election will soon be underway. Exemplifying how far they have come, a woman has now entered the race.

Hacking:

LulzSec’s ambition grows, targets secret govt data – So apparently the hacker group LulzSec is still active. Though they didn’t win the hacking award known as the “Pwnie Award” – they lost to the Stuxnet virus (which attacked substantial industrial software in Iran) – LulzSec has been in the news a lot recently. Jake Davis, the 18 year old LulzSec member who goes by “Topiary” online, was arrested by British Police a few weeks ago. He’s another member to be arrested in recent weeks, which was cause for a lot of anger in the hacking community.

‘Free Topiary’ campaign started for alleged LulzSec hacker – As retaliation for arresting Topiary, larger hacking group Anonymous began the “Free Topiary” campaign, as well as releasing unprecedented amounts of police officers’ personal information. Since Topiary was granted bail, other LulzSec members have been asking for donations to get him out. I don’t get the morality of using police officers’ personal information as bargaining chips, but I suppose the people who support that kind of “hacktivism” have already made their choices.

Police say N. Korean hackers involved in S. Korean online crime – If Anonymous or LulzSec want to prove that they are doing good – which was probably the motivation for yesterday’s hacking of Syria’s ministry of defense website – they should probably turn their efforts towards North Korea. After all, the people of North Korea deserve to be liberated, and the people in power should be punished. In fact North Korea has been notorious for hacking South Korea, and police found for the first time that North Koreans have made a profit for their online crimes.

Why Has There Been So Much Hacking Lately? Or Is It Just Reported More? – Hacking groups have clearly been getting a lot of attention in recent months. An interesting article by Freakonomics co-author Stephen Dubner investigates the increase in hacking reports. Obviously twenty years ago hacking didn’t happen like it does now, but there’s more to it than just the fact that young people are growing up with technology.

Japan:

1,600 workers projected over radiation limit – For the amount of workers they have dealing with the Fukushima #1 power plant, they certainly have too many people being overexposed to radiation, especially considering the fact that the legal limit was eventually raised fivefold. It’s this kind of negligence that contributed to the decision to sack three top nuclear officials.

Did This Man Deserve This? – Drugs and gambling aren’t the only thing the police crack down in Japan. Piracy laws are also strict here. If you’re caught, you’re punished, as one Japanese man found out recently. “The police arrested the man for uploading the twenty-seventh episode of Kamen Rider 000 on a California-based server for unauthorised streaming. According to RBB Today, the man admitted that he had been uploading episodes ‘since around this January.'” (Original text formatting not preserved)

Norway killer wants Japanese psychiatrist – The Norwegian murderer Anders Behring Breivik has made an odd request. His lawyer says: “My client has expressed a wish for a Japanese expert. This wish has to do with the concept of honour. He believes that a Japanese person will understand him better than someone from Europe.” I’m not sure if he wants to be deemed crazy or not… but I assume he has been watching too many samurai movies. OnlineOpinion published an article about the psychology of spree shooters, which may provide some insight into his mindset. Since it makes little citations and lacks references to substantiate the claims, I am not entirely convinced by it, but it’s worth a read.

Science:

Café or Nay? – I like this article because it addresses the confusion that comes with every new study on coffee’s health effects. I just can’t tell if coffee is essentially good or bad for you, and the jury appears to be out. I personally suspect that it’s more a detriment than a benefit, but it seems that for every paper I have to show you that it’s bad for you, there is another to counter that point.

Scientists Restore Fertility in Mice Using Lab-Generated Sperm – Kyoto University researchers have successfully developed sperm in the laboratory. “The mice not only went on to produce normal-looking sperm, but the sperm also successfully fertilized mouse egg cells in Petri dishes.”

Want tall kids? Don’t marry the guy next door – Research out of the Institute of Anthropology at the Polish Academy of Sciences found that genetic diversity tends to yield taller children. This is interesting, though for some reason, people have been running with this story, saying “Want a Tall Kid? Try a Long-Distance Relationship,” which makes no sense. Your sperm doesn’t care how often you talk on the phone to your distant lover… it’s just a matter of genetic diversity. Don’t try a long-distance relationship… if you really want a tall kid (but who cares, really) then the study suggests to travel somewhere far in order to find someone.

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