This Month in Science & Tech: November 2017

The month of November 2017 has seen some interesting developments and discoveries in the field of science and technology. Here are our top stories for the month!

Science

The Intelligence of Fish

Groupers have been observed to work with octopuses in hunting smaller fish, in a phenomenon that has stunned scientists. (Source: BBC)

Fish are smarter than you think. Scientists speculate that they may even be as intelligent as primates. The reason why fish are now perceived to be intellectual sea creatures is due to cooperative hunting between a type of fish called groupers and octopuses, as observed by BBC’s Blue Planet II‘s filmmakers.

As the two different species have been observed to catch the same prey – small fish which hide in corals – they work as a team to find their next meal. Groupers chase these small fish into the corals, but if they cannot reach the fish anymore, they rely on the skills of an octopus. The grouper will attract the octopus’s attention by changing colour (turning pale), wiggling its tail, and putting its head down to signal the location of the target. The octopus then puts its tentacles into the coral to remove the prey from its hiding place. Both the octopus and grouper get the reward 50% of the time, exemplifying mutually beneficial behaviour.

The fact that the grouper and octopus use sign language is indicative of possessing an intelligence resembling crows and chimpanzees. There is also evidence of groupers having intentions behind signalling octopuses (the purpose is to hunt) and planning as they are aware of the outcomes of hunting together with octopuses (rewards are only experienced half of the time). Unlike octopuses, other species like eels are unable to cooperatively hunt with groupers as they lack an understanding of the meaning behind the behaviour signalling the location of prey.

Pesticides: Buzzkill to Bumblebees

Bees use vibrations to release pollen from flowers, in a process known as buzz pollination. (Source: Michael Durham/Getty Images)

Research by the University of Stirling determined that long-term exposure to neonicotinoid pesticides (reflective upon levels found in agricultural fields) contributes to the loss of buzzing in bumblebees.

The pesticides interfere with the ability of bees to use buzz pollination: the use of vibrations to release pollen from flowers, as bees exposed to the pesticide collected approximately 47-56% less pollen than the bees without exposure to the pesticide.

Neonicotinoid pesticides cause impairments in cognition such as memory and learning, which are crucial to carry out complex behaviours like pollination. Exposure to this pesticide threatens the survival of bee colonies in addition to pollination services for flowers, fruits, and the production of honey.

Preventing Asthma with Cats

Can cats actually prevent asthma? (Source: Catster)

According to popular belief, exposure to cats and dogs is one factor responsible for asthma. The allergens (proteins causing allergic reactions) found on animal skin (dander) trigger the inflammatory disease and can determine the severity of individuals with this allergic sensitivity.

Despite the general consensus, a new study by scientists in Denmark found that early exposure to cats actually decreases the likelihood of developing asthma. It is believed that exposure to the allergens from cats can actually strengthens the immune system. However, the findings don’t apply to dogs.

This is because a variant of the TT gene is switched off in the presence of felines. The gene is increases susceptibility to asthma, bronchitis, and pneumonia. So infants born with this gene are more likely to have asthma, unless they have a cat at home.

Dogs Are Lifesavers

Dogs have been touted as a suitable companion for the elderly for ages, and a new study may have just confirmed it. (Source: AOL)

Fret not, dog people, it’s not just the cat lovers who’ll reap the benefits of their beloved pets!

The advantages of having a pet dog are numerous, especially for the elderly who live alone. A study by Swedish researchers have shown that dog ownership decreases health risks: premature death by 30%, cardiovascular disease by 11%, heart disease by 36%, and death in the next 12 years by 33%. Dogs also strengthen the immune system of their owners, who are more likely to maintain a healthy weight as dogs require walks, which guarantees regular exercise and increases physical activity.

Additionally, the canine pets offer companionship and alleviate social isolation, depression, and loneliness. The pets serve as a non-human form of social support as a substitution for the role of a family member in single households. Apart from improved well being and decreased physical health risks, dogs protect owners who live alone.

Loneliness, often experienced by people living alone, increases the risk of an early death by 50%. As such, it is as deadly as obesity and smoking 15 cigarettes a day. Dogs are worth taking care of as they provide safety, companionship, and health benefits.

Technology

iPhone X’s Release

The iPhone X’s exorbitant prices have not put off people from purchasing it. (Source: Apple)

The much anticipated iPhone X has finally revealed itself to the market for pre-orders. Unsurprisingly, it was sold out within a matter of seconds. Now, you may wonder, why the unconventional name? Conventionally, a n-th iPhone would be named iPhone n. If you didn’t know, the iPhone X is the 10th anniversary iPhone model. Hence, it is named after the roman numeral X which stands for 10.

The brand new iPhone X is the very first iPhone to have an AMOLED screen. Also, it has facial recognition and wireless charging! How revolutionary! Android fans, what do you think of this? Aside from all the new features, one thing that seems to stand out about the iPhone X is the price. Priced staggeringly at RM 5,149 for the 64GB model and RM 5,899 for the 256GB, it doesn’t seem to have stopped people from purchasing it.

What’s truly special about the iPhone X though is that the home button is no longer available and its glass finish (same as the iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus) allows for wireless charging. Fear of breaking it easily? Well, perhaps a good phone cover might help to resolve this issue.

Sophia: The Human Robot

Tonight Show host Jimmy Fallon speaks to Sophia, the humanoid robot. (Source: YouTube)

Ever heard of a robot that claimed to want to ‘destroy humans’? Or does that sound like something you would hear in a science fiction horror story? Well, not quite so. Sophia, a robot developed by Hanson Robotics (HR) that has uncannily human-like features, claimed that she would ‘destroy humans’ when she first appeared. Perhaps, it might have been a joke. This is why the concept of uncanny valley has been more prevalent ever since the invention of Sophia.

What’s interesting though is that she is the first robot to have been granted a citizenship–she now possesses a Saudi Arabian citizenship. This was recently announced at the tech summit Future Investment Initiative (FII) held in Riyadh. She has a pale-skinned face with the capability of expressing a wide range of emotions and also conversing, like a chatbot.

David Hanson, the creator of Sophia said he wishes that people are able to interact with Sophia like how they would with their friends, though at this stage, Sophia is still slightly incapable of holding a smooth conversation.

Flying Cars: A Possibility in the Near Future?

Could aerial taxis like this be a possibility in the near future? (Source: USA Today)

Flying cars only seem possible in Hogwarts, right? With the perpetual advancement in technology, Uber teamed up with NASA to help realise this far-fetched idea. The intention behind this project is to reduce congestion on the road and to ease transportation.

The space agency has signed a contract with Uber to provide assistance in developing an air-traffic-control system for the flying cars which goes by the name UberAir or Uber Elevate.

“UberAir will be performing far more flights over cities on a daily basis than has ever been done before,” Uber Chief Product Officer Jeff Holden said in a statement provided to USA Today. “Doing this safely and efficiently is going to require a foundational change in airspace-management technologies.”

Uber said that it hopes to begin flying its aerial taxis that will fly and land vertically on roofs of buildings by 2020. The company has announced three cities as the sites of this early push: Los Angeles, Dallas and Dubai in the UAE.

 

By Kelvin Wong & Sophie Byfield

West Malaysian spirit of magniloquence, periphrasis and procrastination. I have half a mind...

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