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March 27, 2019

Good Morning,

Did you know that humans and computers are very much alike. No, really! It's true! We can both be tricked. You must read the story below...

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

Until Next Time,
Erin


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*- Humans can be tricked just like computers -*

Using the same visual tricks that trip up computers, researchers at Johns Hopkins University have managed to get humans to think like CPUs.

"Most of the time, research in our field is about getting computers to think like people," Chaz Firestone, an assistant professor of psychological and brain sciences at Johns Hopkins, said in a news release. "Our project does the opposite -- we're asking whether people can think like computers."

Computers do a few things much better than humans. They can easily solve complex math problems and remember vast quantities of information. But some tasks that are quite easy for humans, recognizing everyday objects like a dog, bus or a table and chairs, are exceedingly difficult for even the most powerful computers.

However, computers are getting smarter. Artificial intelligence algorithms designed to mimic the human brain's neural processes have helped computers become better visual processors, paving the way for self-driving cars and robots capable of recognizing facial expressions.

But these algorithms aren't foolproof. In fact, they can be rather easily hacked. Certain images -- "adversarial" or "fooling" images -- fail to register with algorithms. The loopholes can be exploited by hackers.

Tweak a few pixels and a computer can easily mistake a train for a banana. Sometimes, computers spot objects that aren't there, spotting cats and birds in the equivalence of television static.

Scientists assumed this trickery was tied to some fundamental difference between the ways computers and human brains process visual information.

"These machines seem to be misidentifying objects in ways humans never would," Firestone said. "But surprisingly, nobody has really tested this. How do we know people can't see what the computers did?"

Firestone decided to test this. He and Zhenglong Zhou, a Johns Hopkins senior majoring in cognitive science, tasked participants with processing images the same way a computer would, using a limited vocabulary for identifying objects.

Study participants were shown pictures that had previously tricked computers and asked to decide whether the image represented the object the computer chose or another random object. More than 90 percent of the participants made the same decision as the computer.

Even when participants were allowed to choose from as many 48 different objects or asked to identify objects in TV static, they agreed with choices of computer algorithms at a rate greater than random chance.

Researchers published the results of their tests in the journal Nature Communications.

"We found if you put a person in the same circumstance as a computer, suddenly the humans tend to agree with the machines," Firestone said. "This is still a problem for artificial intelligence, but it's not like the computer is saying something completely unlike what a human would say."

*-- New purification process removes traces of oil from produced water --*

100 Shopping SpreeEvery day, the oil and gas industry in the United States generates 2.5 billion gallons of produced water. The water isn't safe to be used by households, and current commercial treatments use lots of energy and fail to remove all the contaminants.

Researchers at Purdue University have developed a new purification technique that is energy efficient and effective at removing traces of oil and contaminants from the produced water. The method uses a combination of light and activated charcoal foam to cleanse the contaminated water.

"This is a simple, clean and inexpensive treatment process," Ashreet Mishra, a graduate research assistant at the Purdue's Northwest Water Institute, said in a news release. "I have seen in my home country of India how people suffer for the want of pure water, and we as researchers need to do as much as we can to help."

Solar light works to heat and activate the charcoal foam, which absorbs oil and other contaminants. Tests proved the technique purifies produced water to the EPA's clean water standards for industrial sources.

After purification, scientists measured total organic carbon of 7.5 milligrams per liter in the water. Researchers were also able to recover 95 percent of the oil absorbed by the charcoal foam.

"This is the first-of-its kind method to do this purification in a single step simultaneously via a perforated foam," Mishra said. "Our process is able to address the cost and energy aspects of the problem."

Researchers have previously used coffee-infused foam to purify water contaminated with lead. Different foam materials can be deployed to react with water and separate out unwanted molecules. The tiny pockets of air inside the foam trap and hold the removed contaminants.

Mishra and her research partners claim the charcoal foam could be created at scale and integrated into current water filtration systems. The team of scientists presented their work at this year's annual Produced Water Society conference.