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Understanding Sleep Paralysis

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In your dreams, you’re the star of your own movie—and your subconscious often has you performing stunts that would put Tom Cruise to shame. But even if you’re swinging around the top of the Burj Khalifa in your dream, you stay put in real life. This is thanks to a little thing called sleep paralysis, which keeps you locked in place while you slumber so you don’t hurt yourself. Until recently, scientists understood little about how sleep paralysis works; figuring it out could shed light on disorders such as narcolepsy and REM sleep disorder, and researchers at the University of Toronto might be close to understanding how the phenomenon occurs.

For healthy people, sleep paralysis occurs during REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep, and they are blissfully unaware that it’s even happening. But for some narcoleptics, falling asleep or waking up makes sleep paralysis kick in, creating a terrifying state where the mind is awake, but the body cannot move. The paralysis can last several seconds or even minutes, with rare cases lasting for hours.

To get a better understanding of what causes sleep paralysis in REM, Patricia Brooks and John Peever at the University of Toronto monitored the electrical activity in rats’ facial muscles, triggered by trigeminal motor neurons sending messages to the brain (basically, they looked at what causes sleeping rats to chew while asleep). In an effort to stop sleep paralysis, they blocked the neurotransmitters they thought were responsible for the phenomenon—ionotropic GABAA/glycine receptors—but sleep paralysis still occurred. Next, Peever and Brooks tried blocking the GABAA/glycine ionotropic receptors and the metabotropic GABAB—which did, in fact, stop sleep paralysis, meaning that both gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) and glycine must be present and working together to cause sleep paralysis.

“Understanding the precise mechanism behind these chemicals’ role in REM sleep disorder is particularly important because about 80 percent of people who have it eventually develop a neurodegenerative disease, such as Parkinson’s disease,” Peever says. “REM sleep behavior disorder could be an early marker of these diseases, and curing it may help prevent or even stop their development.”

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Google's AI Can Make Its Own AI Now
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iStock

Artificial intelligence is advanced enough to do some pretty complicated things: read lips, mimic sounds, analyze photographs of food, and even design beer. Unfortunately, even people who have plenty of coding knowledge might not know how to create the kind of algorithm that can perform these tasks. Google wants to bring the ability to harness artificial intelligence to more people, though, and according to WIRED, it's doing that by teaching machine-learning software to make more machine-learning software.

The project is called AutoML, and it's designed to come up with better machine-learning software than humans can. As algorithms become more important in scientific research, healthcare, and other fields outside the direct scope of robotics and math, the number of people who could benefit from using AI has outstripped the number of people who actually know how to set up a useful machine-learning program. Though computers can do a lot, according to Google, human experts are still needed to do things like preprocess the data, set parameters, and analyze the results. These are tasks that even developers may not have experience in.

The idea behind AutoML is that people who aren't hyper-specialists in the machine-learning field will be able to use AutoML to create their own machine-learning algorithms, without having to do as much legwork. It can also limit the amount of menial labor developers have to do, since the software can do the work of training the resulting neural networks, which often involves a lot of trial and error, as WIRED writes.

Aside from giving robots the ability to turn around and make new robots—somewhere, a novelist is plotting out a dystopian sci-fi story around that idea—it could make machine learning more accessible for people who don't work at Google, too. Companies and academic researchers are already trying to deploy AI to calculate calories based on food photos, find the best way to teach kids, and identify health risks in medical patients. Making it easier to create sophisticated machine-learning programs could lead to even more uses.

[h/t WIRED]

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Land Cover CCI, ESA
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European Space Agency Releases First High-Res Land Cover Map of Africa
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Land Cover CCI, ESA

This isn’t just any image of Africa. It represents the first of its kind: a high-resolution map of the different types of land cover that are found on the continent, released by The European Space Agency, as Travel + Leisure reports.

Land cover maps depict the different physical materials that cover the Earth, whether that material is vegetation, wetlands, concrete, or sand. They can be used to track the growth of cities, assess flooding, keep tabs on environmental issues like deforestation or desertification, and more.

The newly released land cover map of Africa shows the continent at an extremely detailed resolution. Each pixel represents just 65.6 feet (20 meters) on the ground. It’s designed to help researchers model the extent of climate change across Africa, study biodiversity and natural resources, and see how land use is changing, among other applications.

Developed as part of the Climate Change Initiative (CCI) Land Cover project, the space agency gathered a full year’s worth of data from its Sentinel-2A satellite to create the map. In total, the image is made from 90 terabytes of data—180,000 images—taken between December 2015 and December 2016.

The map is so large and detailed that the space agency created its own online viewer for it. You can dive further into the image here.

And keep watch: A better map might be close at hand. In March, the ESA launched the Sentinal-2B satellite, which it says will make a global map at a 32.8 feet-per-pixel (10 meters) resolution possible.

[h/t Travel + Leisure]

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