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Photograph of assembled NorthPole PCIe printed circuit board (PCB).

The NorthPole chip developed by IBM brings memory and processing together, allowing vast improvements in image recognition and other computing tasksCredit: IBM Corp.

Brain-inspired chip supercharges AI

A computer chip with “mind-blowing” energy efficiency could speed up artificial intelligence (AI). The computing units in IBM’s NorthPole chip are wired together in a network inspired by connections between parts of the human brain. This eliminates the need to frequently access external memory, which is one of the major bottlenecks for faster processing. It beat existing AI machines by a substantial margin in benchmark image-recognition tests and consumed much less power.

Nature | 5 min read

Reference: Science paper

Eight-billion-year journey for energy blast

When the Universe was around half the age it is today, a blast of fast radio waves — maybe caused by the collision of several galaxies — shot out into the void. Some eight billion years later, in 2022, astronomers detected it on Earth. The unusual reading is older and more powerful than we thought fast radio waves could be, and might lead to a better understanding of the parts of the Universe that are currently invisible to our telescopes.

Nature | 4 min read

Reference: Science paper

AI tidies up Wikipedia

An AI called SIDE can identify poor-quality references on Wikipedia articles, scan the Internet for reputable sources and rank the replacement options. “It might seem ironic to use AI to help with citations, given how ChatGPT notoriously botches and hallucinates citations,” says mathematician Noah Giansiracusa. “But it’s important to remember that there’s a lot more to AI language models than chatbots.”

Nature | 4 min read

Reference: Nature Machine Intelligence paper

Features & opinion

Campus surveillance faces backlash

Some universities are facing pushback about their use of surveillance devices to monitor offices, laboratories and seminar rooms. “University managers say that there’s no issue with privacy, because all the system collects are coordinates,” says geographer Stuart Grieve. “My concern is that it’s very easy to take one data set and combine it with another.” Privacy campaigners fear that the data could be used for disciplinary purposes. “If we were to go on strike in the future, this could potentially be a way to monitor which labs are empty and which aren’t,” says biomedical scientist Maya Gosztyla.

Nature | 9 min read

How grammar influences perception

Indigenous Australians who speak Murrinhpatha have shown how our mental processes can be shaped by the structure of our language. Murrinhpatha has free word order: subjects, objects and verbs can occur anywhere in a sentence. Eye-tracking studies show that Murrinhpatha speakers shown pictures of an event focus on the elements in a different order than English speakers do — all within milliseconds. Murrinhpatha is now thriving because of elders who survived brutal policies of forced assimilation. But many other Indigenous languages are dying or extinct, threatening to curtail our understanding of the diverse ways that humans can think.

Scientific American | 15 min read

Reference: Language paper

Futures: Out, out, brief planet

A field investigator works out who killed a failed planet in the latest short story for Nature’s Futures series.

Nature | 6 min read

Podcast: An anti-CRISPR system

Some viruses have found a clever way to inhibit bacteria’s CRISPR–Cas immune system. They use small pieces of RNA that mimic part of the system to stop it from attacking the virus’s genetic material. The discovery could have applications in phage therapy, in which bacteria-infecting viruses are used in place of antibiotics. “If we are able to equip phages with anti-CRISPR strategies, they would be more effective at taking over bacterial populations and killing nasty bugs,” microbiologist and study co-author Rafael Pinilla-Redondo tells the Nature Podcast.

Nature Podcast | 30 min listen

Reference: Nature paper

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Quote of the day

“A big concern for the journal’s editors was that the paper did not report a new finding.”

Thirty years ago, astronomer Carl Sagan convinced NASA to search for life on the only planet where we’re certain it’s there — Earth. The exercise shows the value of looking with unbiased eyes at what we think we already know, argues a Nature editorial. (5 min read)