A team of researchers at Cornell University recently published a new paper titled "Evolutionary dynamics of recent selection on cognitive abilities." But that's a mouthful that kind of buries the lede, which is the fact that Northern paper wasps are apparently much smarter than we had previously realized. From the abstract (emphasis added):
Cognitive abilities can vary dramatically among species. […] Here, we investigate recent selection related to cognition in the paper wasp Polistes fuscatus—a wasp that has uniquely evolved visual individual recognition abilities. We generate high quality de novo genome assemblies and population genomic resources for multiple species of paper wasps and use a population genomic framework to interrogate the probable mode and tempo of cognitive evolution. Recent, strong, hard selective sweeps in P. fuscatus contain loci annotated with functions in long-term memory formation, mushroom body development, and visual processing, traits which have recently evolved in association with individual recognition. […] These data provide unprecedented insight into some of the processes by which cognition evolves.
On the surface, this might sound terrifying. But according to the researchers, these wasps have only thus far evolved to recognize each other, rather than That Human Kid Who Keeps Coming Back And Messing With Their Nest. As Michael Sheehan, professor of neurobiology and behavior at Cornell, and senior author on the paper, told Phys.org, "The really surprising conclusion here is that the most intense selection pressures in the recent history of these wasps has not been dealing with climate, catching food or parasites but getting better at dealing with each other. Read the rest
In early November, the New York Times published an article called "I Got Access to My Secret Consumer Score. Now You Can Get Yours, Too." Naturally, this struck my curiosity, and I decide to try and navigate the various labyrinthine processes to try and find out what kind of information the conglomerates have on me, and how I can potentially get rid of it.
One of the main databrokers featured in the article is a company named Sift. They're reportedly easy enough to get your information from, and they're said to have a lot of it, too. I sent in my initial request, and they wrote back, saying they just needed to confirm my identity. Makes sense, I guess. I clicked the link, and they asked me to upload a photo of my Driver's License and scan the barcode on the back. Okay, fine; so I did it.
The next step required me to confirm my identity with a selfie. I assume that I am giving them more data to feed their facial recognition algorithms, which in turn will be sold to other companies to use for who-knows-it. But again, I went along with it. I took my hat off, smoothed out my greasy bedhead, and took a selfie:
Notice that little red alert at the bottom of the screen: "Make sure you are looking joyful or happy and try again."
I think I look pretty "joyful" here, all things considered. Besides, I'm not smiling in my driver's license photo; in fact, I was specifically told not to smile. Read the rest
A group of Chinese computer scientists from academia and industry have published a paper documenting a tool for fooling facial recognition software by shining hat-brim-mounted infrared LEDs on the user's face, projecting CCTV-visible, human-eye-invisible shapes designed to fool the face recognition software. Read the rest