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UPI NewsTrack Health and Science News

Sept. 9, 2010 at 6:27 PM   |   Comments

Scientists: Biodiversity a world concern

CAMBRIDGE, England, Sept. 9 (UPI) -- Halting the decline of Earth's biodiversity will require changes in behavior by human society, British researchers say.

In an article in the journal Science, conservationists and scientists argue that unless human societies recognize the link between their consumption choices and biodiversity loss, the diversity of life on Earth will continue to decline.

"If we are to make any kind of impact, it is critical that that we begin to view biodiversity as a global public good which provides such benefits as clean air and fresh water, and that this view is integrated not just into policies but also into society and individuals' day-to-day decisions," Mike Rands, director of the Cambridge Conservation Initiative and lead author of the paper, said.

Biodiversity loss is usually the result of unintended human actions and therefore presents unique problems, researchers say.

"The impacts of a particular action are often distant in space and time. This makes effective regulation difficult, as no single body has jurisdiction over the world's biodiversity," the article says.

The authors urge managing biodiversity as a global public good as one part of a possible solution.

"The value of biodiversity must be made an integral element of social, economic and political decision-making, as is starting to happen with carbon and climate change. Government, businesses, and civil society all have crucial roles in this transition," the authors say.


Earthquake pattern mirrored stress buildup

POTSDAM, Germany, Sept. 9 (UPI) -- The pattern of fractures resulting from the February 2010 earthquake in Chile was predictable from previously measured stresses, German researchers say.

GPS observations along fault zones before the earthquake showed patterns of stresses accumulated through tectonic plate movements during the past 175 years, researchers from the GFZ German Center for Geosciences said.

The earthquake fracture patterns closely followed the stress distributions, they said.

Researchers say the 8.8 magnitude quake in 2010 probably removed all the stress building up since the last major earthquake in the region in 1835, witnessed by Charles Darwin.

Therefore an earthquake of similar magnitude in the area is unlikely in the near future, the scientists say.

Science may still not be able to predict the location, time and magnitude of an earthquake, but the study suggests the predictability of possible fracture patterns and magnitudes of expected earthquakes, its authors said.

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Robots programmed to deceive

ATLANTA, Sept. 9 (UPI) -- U.S. researchers say they've given robots the ability to lie -- or at least to deceive -- in what they say could be a valuable capability.

Georgia Institute of Technology scientists have conducted experiments in what is believed to be the first detailed examination of robot deception, a university release said.

Robots capable of deception could be useful in several different areas, including military and search-and-rescue operations, the researchers say.

A search-and-rescue robot might need to deceive panicking victims in order to calm them or receive cooperation, they say.

Battlefield robots with the power of deception would be able to hide and mislead the enemy to keep themselves and their valuable information safe.

"Most social robots will probably rarely use deception, but it's still an important tool in the robot's interactive arsenal because robots that recognize the need for deception have advantages in terms of outcome compared to robots that do not recognize the need for deception," Georgia Tech research engineer Alan Wagner said.

But creating robots with the capacity to deceive raises ethical implications that need to be considered, the researchers admit.

"We have been concerned from the very beginning with the ethical implications related to the creation of robots capable of deception and we understand that there are beneficial and deleterious aspects," Ronald Arkin, a professor in the Georgia Tech School of Interactive Computing, said.

"We strongly encourage discussion about the appropriateness of deceptive robots to determine what, if any, regulations or guidelines should constrain the development of these systems," he said.


Web site can measure tweets' 'importance'

EVANSTON, Ill., Sept. 9 (UPI) -- New technology can tell who the most influential tweeters are on important issues, U.S. researchers say.

A Web site developed at Northwestern University and online since May and has been tracking the top trending topics from Twitter in real time since then, a university release said Thursday.

The Web site, pulseofthetweeters.com, uses a specialized algorithm to rank the most influential people tweeting on trending topics, says Ph.D. candidate Ramanathan Narayanan, whose thesis project sparked the Web site.

"The question we're really asking is: Whose opinions are most interesting and influential on any given topic?" Narayanan said.

"There are about 50 million tweets produced every day, but most of us only read 10 or 20 tweets in one sitting," Narayanan said. "So, which tweets should you read? Which tweets are being read by media experts on any given subject, such as politics, law, fashion, food?"

While celebrities gain huge followings in the Twitterverse, the top influencers on the hot topics of the day are likely to be people with much lower profiles.

"If someone from BP is tweeting about the oil spill, for example, his opinions are likely to carry much more weight and be of much greater interest than those of Ashton Kutcher, who has a legion of followers," Narayanan said.

"The good thing about our system is it's completely automatic, and it needs minimal human supervision," Narayanan said. "We are able to generate really useful choices for people who are interested in Twitter."

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