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Science, technology, environment and health news and discussion with host Ira Flatow.
Friday, noon – 1 p.m.on News Station
February 26, 2024
OpenAI, the company behind the chatbot ChatGPT and the image generator DALL-E, unveiled its newest generative AI product last week, called Sora, which can produce extremely realistic video from just a text prompt. In one example released by the company, viewers follow a drone’s-eye view of a couple walking hand-in-hand through snowy Tokyo streets. In another, a woman tosses and turns in bed as her cat paws at her. Unless you’re an eagle-eyed AI expert, it’s nearly impossible to distinguish these artificial videos from those shot by a drone or a smartphone.
Unlike previous OpenAI products, Sora won’t be released right away. The company says that for now, its latest AI will only be available to researchers, and that it will gather input from artists and videographers before it releases Sora to the wider public.
But the fidelity of the videos prompted a polarizing response on social media. Some marveled at how far the technology had come while others expressed alarm at the unintended consequences of releasing such a powerful product to the public—especially during an election year.
Rachel Tobac, an ethical hacker and CEO of SocialProof Security, joins guest host Sophie Bushwick to talk about Sora and what it could mean for the rest of us.
Transcripts for each segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com.
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February 23, 2024
Thursday evening, the Odysseus moon lander successfully soft-landed on the moon, becoming the first U.S spacecraft to do so in over 50 years. The lander mission wasn’t created by NASA or another government space agency, but by the company Intuitive Machines, making it the first commercial mission to successfully soft-land on the surface of the moon. The mission was part of a NASA program called the Commercial Lunar Payload Services program, which aims to make lunar missions faster and cheaper. There are other commercial moon missions planned for later this year. Umair Irfan, senior correspondent at Vox, joins guest host Sophie Bushwick for an update on the mission.
They’ll also talk about other stories from the week in science, including the move by some automakers toward plug-in hybrid electric vehicles, work on freezing antimatter, a strange meat-rice hybrid, and progress towards a universal snake antivenom.
We’re taught in school that water freezes at 32 degrees Fahrenheit.
“It usually happens like that in the lake or on the ground,” said Derek Blestrud, a Senior Atmospheric Scientist at Idaho Power.
But the process differs in the sky, he said. Clouds contain supercool water that doesn’t turn to ice until it reaches about -40 degrees F. That is, unless some other substance initiates the freezing.
“Water’s really dumb,” Blestrud likes to say. “It doesn’t know how to freeze unless something else teaches it how to freeze.”
That’s where scientists like Blestrud step in. They help clouds produce more snow through cloud seeding, which involves releasing tiny particles that serve as nuclei for snowflakes to form.
Read the rest at sciencefriday.com.
February 22, 2024
The field of chemistry is filled with visual experiences, from molecular diagrams to color-changing reactions to data displayed as peaks and waves on a spectrograph. Those experiences and representations are not very accessible to blind and low-vision people. In a recent article in the journal Science Advances, a group of researchers describes using 3D printing to create translucent raised images known as lithophanes that can represent high-resolution chemical data in a tactile and visual form simultaneously.
Biochemist Dr. Bryan Shaw joins Ira Flatow to discuss the approach, and other techniques and tools his lab group at Baylor University is developing to make the lab more accessible to blind and low-vision researchers—from specialized devices that assist in the loading of gels for protein electrophoresis, to tiny molecular models that are best experienced by putting them on the tongue.
Transcripts for each segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com
February 21, 2024
The explosion of AI-powered chatbots and image generators, like ChatGPT and DALL-E, over the past two years is changing the way we interact with technology. Their impressive abilities to generate lifelike images from written instructions or write an essay on the topic of your choosing can seem a bit like magic.
But that “magic” comes at a steep environmental cost, researchers are learning. The data centers used to power these models consume an enormous amount of not just electricity, but also fresh water to keep everything running smoothly. And the industry shows no signs of slowing down. It was reported earlier this month that Sam Altman, the CEO of leading AI company OpenAI, is seeking to raise about $7 trillion to reshape the global semiconductor industry for AI chip production.
Ira Flatow is joined by Dr. Jesse Dodge, research scientist at the Allen Institute for AI, to talk about why these models use so much energy, why the placement of these data centers matter, and what regulations these companies could face.
Transcripts for this segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com
February 20, 2024
Not all birds can fly. Penguins, ostriches, and kiwis are some famous examples.
It’s pretty easy to figure out if a living bird can fly. But it’s a bit tricker when it comes to extinct birds or bird ancestors, like dinosaurs. Remember, all birds are dinosaurs, but not all dinosaurs evolved into birds.
Scientists at Chicago’s Field Museum wanted to figure out if there was a way to tell if a dinosaur could fly or not. They found that the number and symmetry of flight feathers are reliable indicators of whether a bird or dinosaur could lift off the ground.
Ira talks with two of the study’s co-authors about their research and how it might help us understand how dinosaur flight evolved. Dr. Yosef Kiat is a postdoctoral researcher and Dr. Jingmai O’Connor is the associate curator of fossil reptiles at The Field Museum in Chicago.
There’s bad news for the Camembert and brie lovers out there: According to the French National Center for Scientific Research, some beloved soft cheeses are at risk of extinction. The culprit? A lack of microbial diversity in the mold strains used to make Camemberts and bries.
As with many foods, consumers expect the cheese they buy to be consistent over time. We want the brie we buy today to look and taste like the brie we bought three months ago. But there’s a downside to this uniformity—the strain of Penicillium microbes used to make these cheeses can’t reproduce sexually, meaning it must be cloned. That means these microbes are not resilient, and susceptible to errors in the genome. Over the years, P. camemberti has picked up mutations that make it much harder to clone, meaning it’s getting harder to create the bries we know and love.
Joining Ira to talk about this is Benji Jones, senior environmental reporter at Vox based in New York City.