I’m getting an early start on this month’s installment of this regular feature. I’m really digging how this new abbreviated format allows me to burn through more articles in a succinct fashion. Here goes:
- The first article is actually a post on Robin Hanson’s blog Overcoming Bias who points out that stories, both the telling and enjoyment of them, has interesting and unexpected effects on a person’s outlook on life. In particular, enjoying fiction seems to, in a sense, cause us to buy into the fictional world with its sense of poetic justice and ethical norms. So we believe the world to be more just and less impersonal than it actually is and behave accordingly. Hanson further speculate that this is a benefit that religions also share, regardless of the underlying truth of that belief.
- Next we have a real-life, honest-to-goodness version of Robocop. This Phys.org article talks about how South Korea is testing robotic guards in one of its prisons. The robots are equipped with a wide variety of sensor devices and software that helps determine the behavioral characteristics of inmates. They are capable of autonomously patrolling the halls of the prison and are supposed to alert human operators if they detect anything out of the ordinary. They’re not armed yet but it seems the next plan would be to get the robots to perform body searches, looking for hidden and improvised weapons in particular.
- Next we have an article about a study confirming something that all dog owners already suspect to be true: just as people yawn when they see and hear other people yawn, so do dogs. This article from The Washington Post covers research which shows that not only do dogs yawn when they hear humans yawning, they are more likely to do it when they hear a person whose voice they recognize yawning.
- Online learning is all the rage these days and I’m currently taking free courses for fun from coursera.org myself but the effectiveness of such computer assisted learning is understandably a big point of contention within educational circles. This article from Inside Higher Ed looks at an experiment that compared the results of students who studied in the traditional way with lectures from a live instructor and students who studied using a hybrid format devised by Carnegie Mellon University’s Open Learning Initiative. This involved a mere one hour of live instruction per week with the rest of the time spent on an artificially intelligent learning platform working through lessons and exercises. The results were pretty shocking: the students using the hybrid format needed only about one quarter of the time to obtain the same results as those using the traditional format.
- Modern animal researchers are very careful about anthropomorphism, that is explaining animal behaviors through the lens of human experience but as this article from the BBC indicates, for some animals this is actually warranted because they really are so alike to humans. Chimpanzees and orangutans it seems are so similar to humans, due to our shared evolutionary history, that not only can each animal be said to have a distinct personality but their personality types are similar to those of humans. This is after carefully controlling that human observers aren’t projecting human biases into their observations.