Thursday, April 8, 2021

A U.S. District Judge says only humans — not AIs — can be named as inventors

Earlier this week, a Judge of the Eastern District of Virginia disagreed with an AI researcher and a law professor of The Artificial Inventor Project arguing that AI machines should be listed as inventors on patents. The judge sided with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), which issued its own ruling last year that only “natural persons” can be named as inventors. The USPTO refused two patents for an AI that created an emergency flashing light and shape-shifting food container. The statutory language remains clear that only natural persons can be listed as inventors, the judge said while adding “There’s no question that in the future the answer might be very, very different”. Both the European Patent Office (EPO) and U.K.’s Intellectual Property Office (IPO) have issued similar rulings turning down the request and patents. (The Wall Street Journal)


Researchers have spotted 17 newborn calves of North Atlantic right whales in recent months, the highest number of new births since 2015

As many new whales have been born in recent months as in the past three years combined, experts say. But the high birth rate may not be enough to pull North Atlantic right whales from the brink of extinction because there are only about 360 left. Flights to survey North Atlantic right whales off the coasts of Georgia and Florida took place during the calving season, which lasts from December to March. Spotters will be monitoring waters off the coast of the Carolinas until mid-April in the hope of finding more calves. A decrease in new births in recent years is attributed to a shortage of zooplankton, on which the whales feed. But the whales seem to have shifted to waters where they have found more food resources, experts said. North Atlantic right whales often die after getting entangled with fishing gear or colliding with ships. (The Guardian)


European regulators have established a causal link between the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine and rare blood clots, but exact cause unknown

 A top official at the European Medicines Agency says there’s a causal link between AstraZeneca’s coronavirus vaccine and rare blood clots, but that it’s unclear what the connection is and that the benefits of taking the shot still outweigh the risks of getting COVID-19. Based on the evidence so far, there’s a clear association between the AstraZeneca vaccine and the dozens of rare blood clots that have been reported worldwide amid the tens of millions of AstraZeneca shots that have been given out. AstraZeneca and Oxford University, which developed the vaccine, announced they were pausing the trial of their jabs in children while British regulators investigate the potential blood clot link in adults. The World Health Organization said its experts were also evaluating a possible link between the AstraZeneca vaccine and rare blood clots and that it might have a “fresh, conclusive assessment” soon. (Associated Press)


Study reveals how leptin, a hormone produced by body fat, intervenes in the brain’s reward circuitry to help curb overeating

A new study in mice describes novel neurocircuitry between midbrain structures that control feeding behaviors that are under modulatory control by leptin. Leptin acts as a critical link between the body and the brain, providing information about metabolic state and exerting control over energy balance. The importance of leptin is illustrated by the finding that animals deficient for leptin rapidly become obese without its regulatory stop on feeding behavior. Leptin suppresses eating by signaling to brain regions that control eating behaviors, but it also decreases the reward value inherent in foods, engaging the brain’s dopamine (DA) reward system. That food-reward pathway was known to involve dopaminergic neurons of the ventral tegmental area (VTA) signaling to the nucleus accumbens (NAc), but most of those DA neurons do not contain receptors for leptin. The work used a combination of powerful technologies, including optogenetics, chemogenetics and electrophysiology to map the new microcircuitry. Researchers discovered that leptin receptors are also present on inhibitory neurons that more strongly regulate the activity of dopamine neurons. Some of these inhibitory neurons suppressed food seeking when animals were hungry, whereas others did so only when animals were in a sated state. It turns out that leptin plays key modulatory roles in an elegant circuit that unites midbrain and limbic reward circuitry. By inhibiting hypothalamic neurons and ultimately suppressing the activity of dopamine neurons in the midbrain that signal reward and promote feeding, leptin reduces food intake in animals under conditions when caloric intake has exceeded energy use. (Elsevier)


Science now says you can judge people by their taste in music after all

It turns out that there is more to the question than appears on the surface, and multiple psychological studies have supported the idea that musical preferences are actually linked to our cognitive styles, or the way we think about, and react to, the world around us. One study shows a link between preferred musical genres and our capacity for empathy, with results across samples showing that empathy levels are linked to preferences even within genres. Empathy, as the authors of the study explain, is “the ability to identify, predict, and respond appropriately to the mental states of others,” and people use empathy while perceiving different types of musical content, reacting to it both emotionally and physiologically. The researchers found that those they categorized as type E, or those with a bias towards empathizing, preferred mellow music that might fall within the genres of R&B and soft rock, while those that prefer “Intense dimension” genres such as heavy metal and hard rock tend to show a bias towards systemizing, or logic-based thinking, rather than showing empathy. The same study also found an interesting link between type E individuals and music with attributes researchers define as “gentle, warm, and sensual” as well as depressing, sad music and songs with emotional depth, such as poetic or thoughtful songs. Those with type S or extreme type S personalities tend to gravitate toward “high arousal” types of music, such as songs that might be described as “strong, tense, and thrilling,” as well as songs with cerebral depth and complexity. (The Hill)


Texas Bans Vaccine Passports

Texas is the latest U.S. state to ban “vaccine passport” requirements. Governor Greg Abbott issued an executive order Tuesday prohibiting state and local governments and agencies from implementing such requirement. The order prohibits the state from refusing service to individuals based on their vaccination status, as well as any organization receiving public funds from requiring consumers to provide documentation of vaccine status in order to receive any service or enter any place, according to the order. To date, 18 states have initiated legislation or issued executive orders banning or severely restricting the use of vaccine passports and prohibiting discrimination based on vaccine status. They include Arizona, Arkansas, California, Iowa, Florida, Louisiana, Maryland, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Wisconsin and Wyoming. Elected officials in Illinois and Hawaii have expressed support for the passport. New York and Nevada have already launched digital vaccine passport systems. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis was among the first to publicly oppose the idea several weeks ago. He told reporters, “Under no circumstances will the state ask you to show proof of vaccination. People are able to make decisions for themselves.” (The Washington Gazette)


Small businesses struggle to hire

Even though millions of Americans are unemployed, small businesses say they’re having to go above and beyond to entice people to apply for open positions. Some employers and training centers are offering perks such as signing bonuses or free pizza to get people in the door. One labor economist says a big reason for the hiring crunch is that many people are strictly looking for remote work during the pandemic, though enhanced unemployment benefits, child care issues and competition from large employers are likely factors, too. (Bloomberg)


Make mental health days ‘normal’

Since the pandemic hit, studies have shown that even though we’re taking fewer sick days, more workers are burning out because they’re working harder, longer and not taking holidays. Some Clinical psychologists say employees aren’t taking mental health breaks, to avoid being considered weak or slacking. But our “suck it up and get on with it” attitude is having a negative effect, with estimates that mental ill-health costs billions per year. Researchers say making mental health days a normal part of work life will go a long way to improving employee productivity and happiness. (Women’s Agenda)


Pets dread the return to offices, too

For many of us, our pets have been our closest colleagues over the past year. Now, as companies begin to consider plans for workers to potentially return en masse to offices later in 2021, our furry companions are suddenly facing an abrupt return to a solitary lifestyle they’re no longer accustomed to. This is no small thing, especially for the pets who were adopted during the pandemic, but vets say there are some things to help counter the stress for both pets and their owners:

  • Try to stick with the same schedule every day for food, walks and playtime.
  • Have a distinctive departure routine that “signals to your pet that you are leaving.” 
  • Start training independence while you’re still home by spending time away from your dog for an hour or two at a time.

(The Wall Street Journal)


UPDATE: Ketchup packets being sold on eBay

Stop throwing away all that ketchup. Throughout the past year, a variety of shortages have occurred due to the pandemic. Items ranging from toilet paper to aluminum cans have all seen brief periods of time where the demand outmatched the supply. Ketchup is the latest product to see supply issues. Prices for ketchup packets have gone up 13% since January 2020, according to data from Plate IQ, a restaurant industry technology platform. Since the pandemic started, shared items (like ketchup bottles) have largely been removed from restaurants. Instead, single-use items have taken their place, meaning that the demand for ketchup packets has seen a significant increase. As is often the case, it appears that some people are trying to profit off of the situation. While they normally may appear to be worthless (since many restaurants simply just give them away), listings for ketchup packets have appeared on eBay. The listings vary in quantity, but a lot of 50 ketchup packets recently sold for $9.99. Another listing for 100 packets sold for $11.99. One listing for 500 ketchup packets sold for $28.95 (with free shipping). Ketchup packets aren’t the only condiment being sold on the site. Taco Bell hot sauce packets are enjoying unprecedented demand on eBay, with some listings asking for significant amounts of money. Many of the listings are selling large lots of the sauce packets (often containing between 50 to 100 packets), but some are offering only single packets for steep prices. (Fox News)


Can’t Get a Certain Song Out of Your Head? Here’s What Makes It an Earworm

Earworms are as common as they are annoying. Almost everyone gets them, and some poor souls have them several times a week. Scientists call them “involuntary musical imagery” or sometimes “intrusive musical imagery.” The English word earworm is a literal translation the German word Ohrwurm. No wonder English speakers adopted the phrase. It makes perfect sense: The tune worms its way into your brain via your ears and refuses to leave. Most often, it’s just a bit of a tune, a short passage of a song that repeats over and over and over and over and over… like a needle caught on a scratch in an old vinyl record. Not everyone hates them. According to a recent study reviewing the body of earworm research, some people say they actually enjoy their earworms, but the charm wears off quickly. And a really sticky tune can drive you up a wall, even if it was a song you once liked. It wasn’t until the 1980s that scientists began to seriously study the phenomenon. They still haven’t figured out what causes them. (Discover Magazine)


At Beauty Pageant, Fight On Stage, Crown Snatched

The Mrs Sri Lanka beauty pageant descended into chaos at the weekend when a former title holder declared that the winner was ineligible because she was divorced, and forcibly removed her crown. A video of the Sunday event opened with the 2019 winner of the competition and reigning Mrs World, Caroline Jurie, speaking to the audience shortly after the winner and runners-up were announced in Colombo. “There is a rule that you have to be married and not divorced, so I am taking my first steps, saying that the crown goes to the first runner-up,” she said, before walking across the stage to remove the crown from Pushpika De Silva, standing with a bouquet of flowers in her arms. Jurie started pulling out hairpins from the winners hair, managed to remove the crown and placed it on the head of the competition’s runner-up, as De Silva left the stage. Celebratory music played in the background throughout the incident. In a Facebook post earlier this week, the winner said she was not divorced but separated, writing in Sinhala: “If I wasn’t fit at the beginning of this tournament they could have removed me.” The prize was returned to the winner at a news conference, after pageant organizers confirmed she was not a divorcee. They have also apologized to her. (NDTV)


A woman in eastern China was reunited with her long-lost daughter after it was discovered that she was marrying the woman’s adopted son

During her son’s wedding, a woman identified by Sohu News as Xi noticed a birthmark on her daughter-in-law-to-be’s hand. She realized it was the same birthmark that her own daughter, who had gone missing years before, had on her hand. She approached the bride’s parents, who confirmed that their daughter had been adopted. She had apparently been found on a roadside by her adoptive parents. Fortunately, the groom was also adopted, so the wedding was able to proceed as planned. (Yahoo News)


Thursday Gets Thrashed With:

  • Alcohol Screening Day (Thursday of first full week)
  • All is Ours Day
  • Buddha Day (Historical Birth Date)
  • Dog Fighting Awareness Day
  • Draw A Bird Day
  • Empanada Day
  • International Roma Day
  • Trading Cards for Grownups Day
  • Virtual Advocacy Day
  • Zoo Lovers Day