While the start of a new school year is always exciting, this year was even more so for some elementary school students in Auckland, New Zealand. They became the world’s first kids to be “taught” by a digital teacher. Before you start imagining a human-like robot walking around the classroom, Will is just an avatar that pops up on the student’s desktop, tablet, or smartphone screen, when summoned.
A collaboration between Auckland energy company Vector and AI company Soul Machines, the autonomous animation platform has been modeled after the human brain and nervous system, allowing it to demonstrate human-like behavior. The digital teacher is currently assigned to teach Vector’s “Be sustainable with energy,” a free program for Auckland elementary schools. Launched in 2005, the award-winning outreach program, previously taught by humans, is designed to educate kids about energy use, and the different forms of renewable energy such as solar, wind, and geothermal.
While birds may appear to flutter about in the world, magically finding their way to food and other members of the flock, the reality is, many species migrate to the same destination, time and again. Over the years, researchers have established that the animals use Earth’s magnetic fields as guides. However, how they sense these fields has been a mystery.
One theory suggested specific molecules in the birds’ eyes were receptive to magnetism, while another claimed it was the iron-rich cells on their beaks that helped with the complex navigation task. Now, two studies – one focused on zebra finches and the other on European robins — assert that the animal’s “sixth sense” for magnetic fields may indeed be due to a special light-sensitive protein called Cry4 found in their eyes.
A 14-year-old with a vocabulary comprising four or five rudimentary words may not sound impressive. However, it sure is when the speaker happens to be an orca, or killer, whale! The amazing discovery, along with the recording of the vocalization, was unveiled in a January 31 study published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.
The research team, led by José Zamorano-Abramson, a postdoctoral researcher at the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile, began recording the 14-year mammal, who resides at Marineland in Antibes, France, in 2014. The experiment was conducted to test the theory that killer whales learn sounds from social settings. Wikie, who has spent most of her life at the aquatic park, is accustomed to mimicking her trainer’s actions in exchange for fish, and was, therefore, the perfect candidate for the job.