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Gizmorama - September 14, 2016

Good Morning,

New research has revealed that proteins found in human hair could work the same as fingerprints. Well, what happens if you're bald?

Learn about this and more interesting stories from the scientific community in today's issue.

Until Next Time,

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*-- Proteins in human hair could work like fingerprints --*

LIVERMORE, Calif. - New research suggests proteins found in human hair are unique to each individual. The proteins could be used by forensic scientists and archaeologists to identify human remains.

DNA profiling is the preferred strategy of forensic scientists and archaeologists, but DNA material can be degraded by the environment over time. Proteins are more stable, and could offer a more reliable way to identify human remains.

Scientists successfully identified proteins in bioarcheological hair samples from six individuals, including 250-year-old specimens. Their analysis proves hair proteins remain stable and identifiable over time.

Researchers have so far been able to locate 185 different hair protein markers in hair samples collected from 76 living humans of European-American and African descent -- enough to yield patterns unique to an individual.

Analysis shows there are direct correlations between a person's hair protein patterns and DNA, further legitimizing the technique's usefulness to forensic science.

Scientists are now working on narrowing down the catalogue of protein markers to a core group of 100, providing a diversity rich enough to differentiate the protein patterns in a single hair from the entirety of the world's population.

If successful, the new identification technique could be used by archaeologists to identify excavated bodies or by police, investigators and forensic scientists to analyze crime scenes.

Researchers detailed the science behind the new hair analysis technique in the journal PLOS ONE.

"We are in a very similar place with protein-based identification to where DNA profiling was during the early days of its development," Brad Hart, lead author of the new paper and forensic scientist at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, said in a news release. "This method will be a game-changer for forensics, and while we've made a lot of progress toward proving it, there are steps to go before this new technique will be able to reach its full potential."

*-- Scientists attempt to teach robots human values --*

ITHACA, N.Y. - A pair of artificial intelligence experts from Cornell University have joined a nationwide effort to ensure the nightmare science fiction scenarios -- the ones involving corrupted human-killing computers -- don't become a reality.

The effort is organized by the Center for Human-Compatible Artificial Intelligence, based at the University of California, Berkeley.

To keep computers behaving properly as they take on more and more responsibility and autonomy, researchers are working to instill their software with human values. Researchers want the algorithms that govern the AI decision-making process to include an understanding of human ethics.

"We are in a period in history when we start using these machines to make judgments," researcher Bart Selman, a professor of computer science at Cornell, explained in a news release. "If decisions are properly structured, the horrors we've seen in the movies won't happen."

Selman is an expert in programming computer decision-making processes. He recently helped Tesla with the company's self-driving car technology. Self-driving cars must be programmed to make a variety of difficult decisions. For example, they must calculate the risks of passing a slow car or veering into another lane to avoid an object.

These sorts of decisions aren't necessarily all that different from ethical dilemmas. Given only two poor options, should a car hit a dog or a group of school children?

Self-driving cars -- and the humans that program them -- must decide whether to prioritize the driver's safety or the public at large. Should a car risk the driver's life to save a group of pedestrians?

The stakes will become magnified as computers take on even bigger, more comprehensive management tasks like controlling an entire air traffic control tower or hospital.

Joseph Halpern, a professor of computer science at Cornell and also a "decision theory" expert, says providing an artificial intelligent agent with as much information as possible will make these difficult decisions more manageable.

"If you have lots of data you can estimate the probabilities well and get a much better handle on uncertainty," Halpern said.

Scientists at Georgia Tech have been working to instill human values by teaching robots fairy tales.

The approach isn't all that different from strategy suggested by Selman and Halpern. Ultimately, Halpern says, computers may be best served by watching how humans respond to ethical dilemmas.


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