Discovered: early risers are healthier than night owls; robots take one more step toward self-awareness; antibiotics expand our waistlines; octopi are conscious.
The early bird gets the healthier life. Shockingly, research has shown that staying up into the wee hours may be the reason why you're so groggy and unproductive. The University of Toronto's Renee Biss and Lynn Hasher surveyed over 700 people of varying ages and sleep patterns, gauging respondents' moods and general health. They found that people who wake up early tend to be happier and more productive than those who stay up late. They argue that "larks" have more positive affects than "owls," and tend to lead healthier lives. [Inc.com]
Antibiotics are making us fat. You don't have to look far for reasons why Americans are getting heavier. We scarf down processed foods, sit far too much, and don't exercise enough. But maybe we should look a bit harder for causes of the obesity epidemic. New studies show that we might want to start by opening the medicine cabinet. Antibiotics profoundly alter our microbiome, the gut bacteria that breaks down food in our bodies. This makes it easier for our bodies to put on fat. Mice and children both put on weight when given antibiotics in recent studies. "Early life antibiotics are changing the microbiome, and its metabolic capabilities, at a critical time in development," says NYU microbiologist Martin Blaser. "These changes have downstream effects on metabolism, including genes related to energy storage." [Wired]
Octopi have consciousness. Consciousness is one of the ways we humans explain our position at the tippy top of the food chain. But scientists are starting to doubt that we alone are conscious. The new Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness—a document signed by neuroscientists of all stripes—argues that octopi, elephants and chimpanzees all exhibit signs of advanced thought. "The weight of evidence indicates that humans are not unique in possessing the neurological substrates that generate consciousness," the researchers write. 'Non-human animals, including all mammals and birds, and many other creatures, including octopuses, also possess these neurological substrates." The octopus earned its way on to the list by virtue of its ability to collect coconut shells and use them as a portable means of shelter. Tool use such as this denotes significant problem solving and memory skills, scientists believe. [Scientific American]
Mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the most advanced robot of all? We're getting one step closer to a Blade Runner-esque world in which robots become indistinguishable from humans. Or at least a world in which robots are very vain. Yale University researchers Justin Hart and Brian Scassellati have programmed a robot that can recognize itself in the mirror. When it extends its arm in front of a reflective surface, NICO can calculate the position of its limb with an accuracy in the range of two centimeters. This type of spatial awareness is new in the field of robotics. "What excites me is that the robot has learned a model of itself, and is using it to interpret information from the mirror," says Hart. [New Scientist]
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.