Crows, those black, pesky, assertive birds, have an artistic side: They ‘tattoo’ themselves. In Santiago, Chile, researchers have discovered intricate markings that are revealed when the bird is examined under ultra-violet light.
“It’s a tribal pattern. You can see that birds of a similar region have similar markings. What’s more interesting is that the crow uses its saliva to make the pattern, it’s not like Blaschko’s lines, nor genetic,” says Javiera Franco, ornithologist and researcher, “The bird is responsible for making these patterns.”
The team went one further and relocated a crow to a different area. After a week, they discovered that the crow had updated its ink to match those of its compatriots. The findings required that a bird be tagged and monitored daily, then brought in for examination with special cameras, since the tattoos do not show on the black feathers under normal lighting conditions.
“We already knew crows were smart. This just confirms that they are highly complex creatures,” she says, “It displays a high level of intelligence and social interaction. I am keen to see if any other birds behave in this way, and if it has any effect on courtship.”
“Cheaters prosper”, a subject inspiring stories and films, has more weight behind it since the world’s longest cheating streak was exposed.
Nathan Campbell, originally of Delaware, USA, made the decision back in 1984 to set up residence in Nevada. What drove him was a roulette board.
“I found it on a hunch, and I watched it over five whole days,” he says, “First I thought it might have been the croupier, but it wasn’t. Had a good run for the next month and, after that, I decided to spend a bit more time. Next thing you know, I’m making a living out of it, so I stayed.”
The bias on the wheel was only uncovered after the casino, that wishes to remain unnamed, audited their equipment in ‘the older section’. Ordinarily, casino equipment is checked and calibrated on a regular basis, but somehow the ‘older section’ was missed. After viewing CCTV footage from archives over the years, they spotted Mr Campbell and immediately investigated.
“It’s a fair cop,” he says, “I’ll cash up and move back to Delaware. Had a good run, eh?”
The Hollywood variety are known to be chatty, and it turns out that the interstellar variety are as well.
Stars are ‘talking’ to each other, according to research performed by leading Astronomer Franz Keg at Munich ASL Observatory.
“It has taken over a decade, for the delay of communication is still governed by the speed of light. We have recorded a conversation between our star and one of the nearest, Barnard’s Star,” he says, “It is still up for analysis whether there is a proper grammar and structure.”
The report says that the ‘hot topic’ is a supernova that happened 150 years ago – yesterday in solar terms. Flares, sun spots, and strong magnetic fields send out an enormously complex signal that is being received, in a decade or so, by other stars.
“While we have only discovered three parts of a conversation, we expect there to be more as the years go on and our research continues. Alpha Centauri was has been too complicated, as the triple system is too noisy, much like a gaggle of geese,” he says, “As the Earth travels through the solar wind, it is like sitting on the telephone wire, listening in to the gossip.”
Digital emotions aren’t new. Tamagochi, a children’s craze back in the 90’s, gave us a virtual pet that came with emotions, and responded to stylised pleasure and punishment.
Now engineers are looking to put that concept into the next advance in robotic control.
“Fuzzy logic is great for washing machines, and determinate, adaptive algorithms work for menial tasks. If you look to the animal world, the higher orders of animals are trainable not through direct logic and signals, but through pleasure and pain,” says Doctor Gerard Jung, lead roboticist in Germany’s Klein-Bach Laboratories.
“The beauty of pleasure and pain receptors means that the robot is trained not by a set of pre-calculated goals, rather the various environmental factors, including and especially humans, determine what is right and wrong,” he explains, “This way we let the robot ‘figure out’ what it is meant to do, create its own goals and boundaries. It’s very much like training a small dog or a young child. It’s not quite ‘right and wrong’ in a moralistic sense, it’s physically based at this stage.”
He says that the technology will ease the pathway of getting robots into the household and would lead to eventual robot ‘buddies’, one that could listen and actively sympathise with their owners.