China lands a robotic spacecraft on the Moon, science stories most likely to make headline news in 2019, and can artificial intelligence turn brain activity into speech?
(Science, 1/2/2019, Kelly Servick)
Artificial Intelligence (AI) is the hot topic of the moment in technology, and the driving force behind most of the big technological breakthroughs of recent years. For many people who are paralyzed and unable to speak, signals of what they’d like to say hide in their brains. No one has been able to decipher those signals directly, but three research teams recently made progress in turning data from electrodes surgically placed on the brain into computer-generated speech. Using computational models known as neural networks, they reconstructed words and sentences that were, in some cases, intelligible to human listeners. None of the efforts, described in papers in recent months on the preprint server bioRxiv, managed to re-create speech that people had merely imagined. Instead, the researchers monitored parts of the brain as people either read aloud, silently mouthed speech, or listened to recordings.
(Science, 1/3/2019, Science News Staff)
Scientists in Europe and the United States face an uncertain political landscape in the new year, which could affect funding and collaborations. But competing with this gloomy forecast are some big research findings including the first clear images of the supermassive black hole at the heart of our galaxy, from astronomers in an international collaboration called the Event Horizon Telescope. Science’s news staff forecast the areas of research and policy likely to make news this year.
(BBC News, 1/3/2019)
China reached a milestone in space exploration this week, landing a vehicle on the far side of the moon for the first time in history, the country’s space agency announced. Previous Moon missions have landed on the Earth-facing side, but this is the first time any craft has landed successfully on the unexplored and rugged far side. The Chang’e-4 probe is aiming to explore a place called the Von Kármán crater, located within the much larger South Pole-Aitken (SPA) Basin – thought to have been formed by a giant impact early in the Moon’s history. The event responsible for carving out the SPA basin is thought to have been so powerful, it punched through the Moon’s crust and down into the zone called the mantle. Researchers will want to train the instruments on any mantle rocks exposed by the calamity.
—Compiled by Social Media Specialist Jillian Scola