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New TV Alert: Science Channel & Popular Science Team Up for "Future Of..."

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Starting tonight at 9pm (ET/PT) and on Mondays hereafter, a new science show hits The Science Channel -- it's called Popular Science's Future Of.... I've seen the first few episodes, and think it's worth watching. The premise is simple: the host -- blogger/comedian Baratunde Thurston -- visits scientists who are working on prototypes of new inventions, then tries them out. In the first episode, Superhuman, Baratunde tries out a series of inventions related to human performance and body enhancement (including several from my favorite Nerdvana, the MIT Media Lab) to see how they really work. Below is a roundup of some of the key stuff covered in the first episode.

Cooling Glove

Stanford biologists are making a cooling device that you wear on your hand; by sticking your hand into this thing, you can quickly and safely reduce your core temperature -- thus reducing sweating and potentially avoiding overheating during a workout. (Pictured above: Baratunde trying it out.) Why a glove? Well, the hand acts like a radiator for the body, and lots of blood flows through that area -- by cooling the hand, blood throughout the body can be cooled quickly. This invention already works, it's just a bit bulky at the moment. I'm hoping for a Michael Jackson-style sparkly glove that I can rock at the gym.

Limb Regeneration Powder

You've probably heard the story of the guy who grew about a half-inch of his fingertip back (including fingernail) at the ripe of age of 72, using an experimental powder derived from pigs' bladders. (If you haven't heard this, read a quick summary at Wikipedia. Basically, an older man accidentally cut off a segment of his finger, and his brother, a University of Pittsburgh scientist, tried an experimental regenerative powder on him. It worked.) While some scientists disagree about whether any regeneration actually happened here (some say it's just normal healing), this powder certainly seems like interesting stuff -- could it, or a regenerative substance like it, someday lead to regeneration of dying organs (thus doing away with transplants), or missing limbs? Baratunde explains...though he doesn't lose any fingers trying it out.

Wearable "Sixth Sense" Projector/Camera/PDA/Phone/Everything Device

An MIT Media Lab project, the Sixth Sense device is a wearable computer that hangs around your neck (Snow Crash gargoyles, anyone?) and instead of a screen, uses a micro-projector that projects its contents onto the nearest wall, car, whatever. It also includes a camera, so you can use your hands to interact with the picture in mid-air, implementing a sort of "touchscreen" without the touching. While it's still in the research phase (it's bulky, the picture it projects is a little unsteady, and so on), this gizmo is at least academically interesting -- and who knows, perhaps it's what we'll all be using in the not-too-distant future.

And Much, Much More...

The first episode also covers super-muscled mice (and Bully Whippets, those creepy hulk-style dogs), bionic Terminator-style contact lenses, and prosthetic limbs for athletes (that last one is the closest to a practical application, as its primary researcher is a double amputee and uses his own research samples every day). It's compelling stuff, presented in a clear and unaffected manner. Most of the time, I find these "pop science" shows to be way too dumb or hyper to hold my interest -- I want more science, less wackiness. This show finds the right balance, with an intelligent (and fun) host, compelling subject matter, and a healthy dose of actual science content. Having blogged about science and tech for several years, I recognized many of the projects in the upcoming episodes (for example, the Siftables "smart blocks") -- this is the real deal.

So tune in tonight (Monday, August 10) at 9pm (ET/PT) on The Science Channel to catch the first episode. There'll be many more, coming each Monday night, for your science-loving enjoyment. For more information: official website, Twitter feed, Facebook page, and I'm sure you can find the rest from there.

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Google's AI Can Make Its Own AI Now
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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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Afternoon Map
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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