An artificially intelligent prosthetic leg, bees that can link symbols to numbers, new predictions for heatwave deaths – and does gender hold female academics back? Our round-up of provoking thoughts, penetrating insights and digital curiosities…
Bionic leg unveiled
An artificially intelligent ‘bionic leg’ could herald a sea change in the prosthetics industry, Quartz reports. A new design can respond to the thoughts of the user, for instance to pick something up or kick a ball. The leg, created by scientists, uses artificial intelligence to combine signals from muscle contraction and sensor data from within the leg to understand what the user wants to do. It uses open-source programming, meaning researchers and patients are encouraged to work collaboratively to improve the device.
Bees link symbols to numbers
Bees can link symbols to numbers, proving that despite their small brains the insects can learn complicated ideas, a new study has found. The Independent says that researchers trained honeybees to match characters to specific quantities, for example recognising that “two” could represent two bananas. Previous studies have shown that birds and primates have this ability, but this is the first time it has been discovered in insects – and it could lead to “exciting new pathways for future communication across species”, according to lead researcher Adrian Dyer.
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Endurance has a limit
Human endurance has a limit – and it is apparently determined by biology. Scientists studied marathon runners, looking at their calorie expenditure and the point at which the body is burning more calories than it can absorb from food and convert into energy, according to Science magazine. They found there was a biologically-determined ceiling on human performance, at about 2.5 times an athlete’s basal metabolic rate – the rate of energy needed to keep the body functioning at rest. The same study found that pregnancy demands roughly the same level of energy as athletic endurance events.
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Heatwave deaths could rise
Thousands more people will die every year during heatwaves unless global warming is tackled, public health experts have warned. Once the average worldwide temperature reaches three degrees Celsius above the pre-industrial period, nearly 5,800 people are expected to die each year in New York and more than 2,500 in Los Angeles due to the heat, for example, the Guardian reports. If countries keep to the two degrees Celsius limit set out in the Paris climate agreement, this scenario could be avoided, it said.
Gender holds female academics back
Female academics are less likely to progress in their careers than men, not rising through the ranks as quickly, the BBC says. It cited a study that looked at 24 of the most prestigious universities in the UK, which found that female academics with the same qualifications and personal circumstances as men – including how many dependent children they had – were less likely to be employed at a senior level.