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The Laugh Frontier: Can AI Understand Irony?

Bot did you get it?

What was your first reaction when you heard about Blake Lemoine, the Google engineer who announced last month the AI program he was working on had developed consciousness?

If, like me, you’re instinctively suspicious, it might have been something like: Is this guy serious? Does he honestly believe what he is saying? Or is this an elaborate hoax?

Put the answers to those questions to one side. Focus instead on the questions themselves. Is it not true that even to ask them is to presuppose something crucial about Blake Lemoine: specifically, he is conscious?

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Less Than A Rat? The Case For Treating Insects More Humanely In Lab Research

Opening bee skulls. Electric shocks for cockroaches. Some researchers want to grant more invertebrates ethical consideration, questioning long-held assumptions on consciousness.


Bees have long impressed behavioral scientist Lars Chittka. In his lab at Queen Mary University of London, the pollinators have proven themselves capable of counting, using simple tools, and learning from nestmates. What really surprised Chittka, however, were the nuances of the insects’ behavior.

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How Altered Consciousness Is Changing Psychiatry

From self-induced trance to psychedelics, altered states of consciousness are experiencing a renewed interest in the scientific community for their therapeutic value.

GENEVA — Swiss psychiatrist Valérie Picard describes her weekly trance practice as being plunged into a feeling of intense happiness: “I often find myself parachuted into magnificent natural landscapes. With a feeling of weightlessness all my perceptions are amplified, in a kind of ecstasy of the senses”

Working at the Belmont Clinic in Geneva, she does not, however, have the sort of profile of someone traditionally interested in these techniques. These explorations of states of consciousness are still considered by many to be controversial.

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An Epic Mission, Preserving The Ancient Books Of Timbuktu

Mali's "mysterious city" welcomes a new class of students trained in looking after ancient books. From conservation to digitization of these works, a colossal task awaits them to preserve this endangered heritage and the secrets they contain.

TIMBUKTU — In the workroom of the Ahmed-Baba Institute of Higher Studies and Islamic Research, time seems to have slowed down. As the dust and the sound of brushes on paper float by, six students hold in their hands one of the most precious heritages of the region.

Ceremoniously, they repeat the same gestures: lifting the pages, one by one, with the tip of a thin wooden spatula, then, with the flat of the brush, ridding the inks and the centuries-old papers of dust.

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Gado Alzouma

Why Africa Has So Few Nobel Prizes In The Sciences

Even as it celebrates this year's literature prize going to Tanzanian author Abdulrazak Gurnah, Africa is again completely absent from the list of Nobel winners in science. In research as elsewhere, money is the key.

Nobel Prize recipients from around the world have been celebrating their achievements this month at their respective award ceremonies. But besides Tanzanian Abdulrazak Gurnah, winner in the literature category, the African continent was largely absent from the awards — most notably in the science categories. But this is nothing new.

With the notable exception of Egypt, which boasts a Nobel Prize in chemistry, and South Africa, which has five in chemistry, physiology and medicine, over the years Africa only has obtained Nobel Prizes for literature or peace. By comparison, the United States leads the way with 296 laureates, followed by Germany and Japan, with 94 and 25 awards respectively.

Many would be tempted to find the explanation for this poor African performance in a lack of "predisposition for science" or "scientific spirit" among our people. This is not the case: The capacity to produce scientific breakthroughs and to make discoveries does not lie in any "superior intelligence," in a supposed "genius," in alleged "genetic predispositions," or in the culture of the people.

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Report: Russia Hacked Dutch Police Systems During MH17 Probe

Police in the Netherlands were working at the time of the cyber attack on the investigation into the downing of flight MH17 from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur that was shot down on July 17, 2014 over eastern Ukraine.

AMSTERDAM — Russian hackers penetrated deep into the Dutch national police's digital system in 2017, during a period that Russian separatists were being investigated for the downing of a Malaysia Airlines flight that had departed from the Netherlands, Dutch daily De Volkskrant reports in an exclusive investigation.

The cyber attack, reportedly carried out by hackers belonging to the Russian security service SVR, was particularly troubling, De Volkskrant reports, because the police were working on the criminal investigation into the downing of flight MH17 from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur that was shot down on July 17, 2014 over eastern Ukraine.

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Jorge Alcalde

Covidization Of Healthcare Leaves Other Diseases Untreated

'Covidization' of healthcare systems worldwide has led to rising mortality rates in pathologies like cancer, and more births in the Third World.

MADRID — COVID-19 is killing people even without the virus.

Spain's Lung Cancer Group, a research body, believes lung cancer will have killed 1,300 people more in the country in 2020 than predictive models had anticipated before the pandemic struck. Between January and April this year, lockdowns and diverted healthcare resources meant 30% fewer initial oncology consultations than during those months in 2019.

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Liliana Hernández

After Coca And Coffee, Legal Cannabis Can Take Colombia Higher

Local investors and entrepreneurs should learn from past mistakes to harvest the best results from the country's decision to authorize marijuana production.


BOGOTÁ — The era of legal cannabis cultivation has begun in Colombia, but there's nothing new about the production model.

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Pablo Bizón

In Tierra Del Fuego, Findings Of A Unique American Biologist

In far southern Argentina, writer Pablo Bizón recalls a chance encounter with a woman who followed her passion for science all the way from Kent State to Patagonia.

ESTANCIA HARBERTON — I wish I could have coffee with her now and chat about Tierra del Fuego. And listen to her talk about the islands she fell in love with in her youth, when she first read The Uttermost Part of the Earth by E. Lucas Bridges.

The book recounts the adventures of Thomas Bridges, the first white man to live on the Tierra del Fuego archipelago and the founder of the Harberton Estate, some 80 kms from Ushuaia, in far southern Argentina. And it was here on that same estate, years ago, that I had a chance to meet the late Natalie Goodall, or Rae Natalie Prosser de Goodall, to give her full Argentine name.

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Madhusudhan Raman

Beyond Nobel: In Search Of A Better Way To Measure Science

NEW DELHI — In an article in The Atlantic, Patrick Collison and Michael Nielsen express their concerns about the perceived slowdown of scientific progress. With "more scientists, more funding for science, and more scientific papers published than ever before," they ask whether the rising investment in scientific research is yielding proportionately rising dividends, or whether we are "investing vastly more merely to sustain (or even see a decline in) the rate of scientific progress?" Yet, as they concede, it's unclear how to measure the rate of scientific progress.

Much ink has been spilled on the misplaced reification of the Nobel Prizes. The Wire: It presents "a lopsided view of how scientific research has been undertaken in the world." The Atlantic: "The discoverer is forever billed as an intellectual force in their own right — creating an equivalence between one historical contribution and their entire portfolio of ideas forevermore." Then, there are the shocking omissions: Rosalind Franklin, Vera Rubin, Jocelyn Bell Burnell and E.C.G. Sudarshan, to name just a few.

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Paul Molga

Is Empathy Determined By Genes?

Education and experience certainly play a role in how well an individual understands other people's feelings. But there may be certain genetic predispositions at work too.

PARIS — The human capacity to read the emotions of others does not depend solely on our education and experiences. It is also influenced by our genes, according to a major international study published in the journal Translational Psychiatry. When it comes to empathy, in other words, we don't all start off with the same innate abilities.

Nor is there one objective measure of empathy. The scientists involved in the study, therefore, based their research on a "quotient of empathy" as gaged in a questionnaire developed in 2004 at the University of Cambridge. Researchers from France's Université Paris-Diderot, Institut Pasteur and Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS), the national research body, also participated in the study, which focused on 46,000 clients of the genetic analysis company 23andMe.

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Georgy Llorens

R&D And Innovation, A Patent Failure In Latin America

In spite of dynamic consumer figures, Latin America lags when it comes to investment in research and development, those crucial agents of social and economic development.


SANTIAGO — The official registration of intellectual property is fundamental for innovation, because it offers a guarantee for innovators that they can, at least for a while, protect their inventions, brands or designs. It is a reward for developing something new.

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