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UPI NewsTrack Science and Technology News

Nov. 26, 2012 at 6:58 PM   |   Comments

Study of risks to humankind proposed

CAMBRIDGE, England, Nov. 26 (UPI) -- British researchers say they want to create a Center for the Study of Existential Risk to analyze the ultimate risks to the future of mankind.

The purpose of the center, they said, would be to consider risks to mankind's survival from biotech, nanotech, extreme climate change, nuclear war and runaway artificial intelligence, theregister.co.uk reported Monday.

Artificial intelligence is a particular focus, researchers said, with concerns super-intelligent machines could someday be a danger to the human race.

The exponential increases in computing complexity will eventually reach a critical turning point when artificial intelligence allows computers to write programs and create technology to develop their own offspring, they said.

"Think how it might be to compete for resources with the dominant species," said Cambridge University philosopher Huw Price. "Take gorillas for example -- the reason they are going extinct is not because humans are actively hostile towards them, but because we control the environments in ways that suit us, but are detrimental to their survival."

Experts from a number of fields, including law, computing and science, would advise the center and help with investigating the risks, Price said.

"At some point, this century or next, we may well be facing one of the major shifts in human history -- perhaps even cosmic history -- when intelligence escapes the constraints of biology," he said.

"Nature didn't anticipate us, and we in our turn shouldn't take artificial general intelligence for granted."


Phone app can identify disease outbreaks

LIVERPOOL, England, Nov. 26 (UPI) -- Scientists in Britain have created a cellphone app for doctors they say can map disease outbreaks by logging patient diagnoses and treatments.

Researchers at Liverpool University have launched ClickClinica, a free app for doctors that contains authoritative guidelines for handling medical issues so doctors can check best practice before treating their patients, The Guardian reported Monday.

But more than just a digital reference book, it creators said, it allows doctors to record what symptoms their patient has and the treatment they provided, data that can, when collected worldwide, provide real-time global disease surveillance.

Already proving its effectiveness, ClickClinica has recorded three new cases of TB in Britain, five cases of the severe brain infection encephalitis and a new case of H1N1 influenza, The Guardian said.

"Notification of many major infectious diseases is required from junior doctors, who are often unaware of which cases to notify, who they are supposed to notify, how they are supposed to do it," said Benedict Michael, the app's developer.

"Even those with adequate knowledge of the process can find it time consuming when also dealing with the welfare of their patient and other important administrative duties."


Study: More Facebook friends, more stress

EDINBURGH, Scotland, Nov. 26 (UPI) -- The more social circles or Facebook friends a person has, the more likely social media can become a source of stress, Scottish researchers say.

The more groups of people in someone's Facebook friends, researchers at the University of Edinburgh Business School reported, the greater the potential to cause offense, particularly if employers or parents are included.

Stress rises when users present a version of themselves on Facebook that is unacceptable to some of their online "friends," the researchers said.

Some 55 percent of parents follow their children on Facebook, they said, while more than half of employers have admitted to not hiring someone based on the applicant's Facebook page.

"Facebook used to be like a great party for all your friends where you can dance, drink and flirt," Edinburgh researcher Ben Marder said. "But now with your Mum, Dad and boss there, the party becomes an anxious event full of potential social landmines."

The researchers surveyed more than 300 people on Facebook, mostly students, with an average age of 21.


Marine life said affected by acid oceans

CAMBRIDGE, England, Nov. 26 (UPI) -- British scientists studying the Southern Ocean around Antarctica say they've seen the first evidence increasing ocean acidification is affecting marine life.

Writing in the journal Nature Geoscience, researchers with the British Antarctic Survey along with British and U.S. colleagues report the shells of marine snails living in the seas around Antarctica are being dissolved by acidic ocean waters.

Ocean acidification is caused by the uptake into marine waters of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere emitted as a result of fossil fuel burning.

While laboratory experiments have suggested an effect of ocean acidification on marine organisms, the researchers said this is the first evidence of such impacts on live specimens in their natural environment.

"The corrosive properties of the water caused shells of live animals to be severely dissolved and this demonstrates how vulnerable pteropods [marine snails] are," researcher Nina Bednarsek said. "Ocean acidification, resulting from the addition of human-induced carbon dioxide, contributed to this dissolution."

The findings suggest the impact of ocean acidification on marine ecosystems and food webs may be significant, the researchers said.

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