Oct 11, 2017

Scientists are able to predict what song a bird will sing

The zebra finch's vocalizations are similar to human speech, making it a favorite study subject for scientists. Photo: Gil Dekel / Creative Commons

A team of scientists at the University of California, San Diego, have built an interface that can peek into a bird's brain and predict the song it is going to sing "a fraction of a second before it does so," per MIT Technology Review's Antonio Regalado.

Why it matters: The discovery marks the first successful prototype of "a decoder of complex, natural communication signals from neural activity," the team said. They suggest a similar approach could be used to create a way for people to send texts, tweets, and more solely with their minds — an ambition of tech titans like Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg.

Findings from the team's report, published on the website bioRxiv:

  • The team: Timothy Gentner and his students at UCSD, with the help of Argentinian birdsong expert Ezequiel Arneodo, say they've successfully decoded "realistic synthetic birdsong directly from neural activity" of the zebra finch; a small, orange-beaked bird.
  • Their method: The scientists used silicon electrodes in the birds "to measure the electrical chatter of neurons in part of the brain called the sensory-motor nucleus, where 'commands that shape the production of learned song' originate," writes Regalado. Then they trained their machine learning software to match the neuron pattern to the song it produced.
  • The result: The team said the software can predict what the bird will sing roughly 30 milliseconds before it does so.
  • The human connection: Scientists use birdsong — which is complex and learned — as a proxy for human language.

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Coronavirus dashboard

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  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 5 p.m. ET: 657,691 — Total deaths: 30,438 — Total recoveries: 139,263.
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  4. State updates: Alaska is latest state to issue a stay-at-home order — New York is trying to nearly triple its hospital capacity in less than a month and has moved its presidential primary to June 23. Some Midwestern swing voters that supported Trump's handling of the virus less than two weeks ago are now balking at his call for the U.S. to be "opened up" by Easter.
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Infant dies after testing positive for coronavirus in Chicago

Hospital staff working inside a COVID-19 screening tent in Chicago on March 26. Photo: Jim Vondruska/NurPhoto via Getty Images

An infant less than one year old died in Chicago, Illinois after testing positive for the novel coronavirus, the state health department said on Saturday.

Why it matters: The death would mark the first reported infant mortality from COVID-19 in the U.S. The fatality rate for the novel coronavirus in the U.S. is highest among those over 85 years old, per the CDC.

Trump weighs quarantine of New York, New Jersey, Connecticut

Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins; Map: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

President Trump said on Saturday he is considering a "short term" quarantine of New York, New Jersey and parts of Connecticut — states that have already taken steps to quarantine residents and promote social distancing.

The big picture: With 112,000 people infected, the U.S. has the most COVID-19 cases in the world, exceeding China and Italy, per data from Johns Hopkins. A second wave of American cities, including Boston, Detroit, New Orleans and Philadelphia, are reporting influxes of cases.

Go deeperArrowUpdated 2 hours ago - Health