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Ode to the Brain

"The brain is a very big place, in a very small space" -Carl Sagan, in the latest Symphony of Science song. More geeky scientific awe, communicated via music and imagery, from composer John Boswell.

"Here is this mass of jelly you can hold in the palm of your hands. And it can contemplate the vastness of interstellar space." -Vilayanur Ramachandran.

Lyrics after the jump.

[Robert Winston]
It's amazing to consider that I'm holding in my hands
The place where someone once felt, thought, and loved
For centuries, scientists have been battling to understand
What this unappealing object is all about

[Vilayanur Ramachandran]
Here is this mass of jelly
You can hold in the palm of your hands
And it can contemplate the vastness of interstellar space

[Carl Sagan]
The brain has evolved from the inside out
It's structure reflects all the stages through which it has passed

[Jill Bolte Taylor]
Information in the form of energy
Streams in simultaneously
Through all of our sensory systems

And then it explodes into this enormous collage
Of what this present moment looks like
What it feels like
And what it sounds like

And then it explodes into this enormous collage
And in this moment we are perfect
We are whole and we are beautiful

[Robert Winston]
It appears rather gruesome
Wrinkled like a walnut, and with the consistency of mushroom

[Carl Sagan]
What we know is encoded in cells called neurons
And there are something like a hundred trillion neural connections
This intricate and marvelous network of neurons has been called
An enchanted loom

The neurons store sounds too, and snatches of music
Whole orchestras play inside our heads

20 million volumes worth of information
Is inside the heads of every one of us
The brain is a very big place
In a very small space

No longer at the mercy of the reptile brain
We can change ourselves
Think of the possibilities

[Bill Nye]
Think of your brain as a newspaper
Think of all the information it can store
But it doesn't take up too much room
Because it's folded

[Oliver Sacks]
We see with the eyes
But we see with the brain as well
And seeing with the brain
Is often called imagination

[Various]

[Robert Winston]
It is the most mysterious part of the human body
And yet it dominates the way we live our adult lives
It is the brain

This is the ninth installment in Boswell's series. For more _floss coverage, search the site. I still think the first song, "A Glorious Dawn," is the best.

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iStock
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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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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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