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Short-Term Hearing Loss Actually Protects Ears

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For a few hours after a particularly loud concert, the ringing in your ears makes it tough to hear. When your friends ask how the show was, you sheepishly ask them speak up so you can catch what they’re saying. This hearing loss, which is most often reversible, doesn’t mean you’re more likely to need a hearing aid later in life. In fact, researchers found the opposite—reversible hearing loss actually protects your ears.

Researchers led by Gary Housley, chair of physiology at the University of New South Wales in Australia, exposed mice to loud noises to learn more about how reversible hearing loss works. Some of the mice had regular ears, but others had ears that lacked a receptor that accepts ATP, a chemical that the cochlea—the spiral shaped auditory part of the inner ear—releases.

The mice without the receptor could listen to loud noises for hours on end without experiencing any short-term effects. It was almost as if they could not perceive a change in sound levels. The mice with the regular ears, however, experienced short-term hearing loss that could last for more than 24 hours, but in the long run protected their ears. And even though the mice without the receptor didn’t seem to notice booming noises, they showed more evidence of permanent hearing loss.

"It's like sun exposure," says Housley. "It's not the acute exposure, but the chronic exposure, that can cause problems years later."

This paper, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), reinforces what Housley discovered in a previous study about deafness. In that study he looked at two Chinese families with a mutation in their ATP receptors; if family members worked around loud noises, they experienced accelerated hearing loss.

"Because our hearing sensitivity adapts, we can withstand loud noise, but we can't sense the absolute intensity of the sound and if we exceed the safe sound upper limit, we will damage our hearing—despite this protective adaptation mechanism we have discovered,” Housley says.

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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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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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