The top three news stories of the week, as chosen by our resident students. This week’s top stories include AI debates, exploding stars and dogs reading our emotions.

By Will Hawkes

IBM’s Project Debater Goes Head to Head in Live Debate

This week, IBM placed it’s newest AI robot (creatively named Project Debater) on a pedestal and tasked it with winning a public debate on two subjects; government funded space exploration and the future of telemedicine. The audience, filled with a large number of IBM staff, said the machine won one of the debates and was actually capable of converting 20% of the audience to its point of view. Over a 10 minute statement, the bot was voted better at providing information but was voted worse at delivery, highlighting behavioural interaction with humans as an additional challenge.

The ambition of the 6 year project is not to actually beat humans at debating, but to push AI to become assistive in helping humans make evidence based, unbiased decisions, devoid of emotion. The real achievement here lies within the ability of Project Debater to be given a topic at random, search its vast database and provide a continuous argument in real time, while listening to its opponents arguments in preparation for a valid rebuttal. However, requiring a computer the size of a small building means that Project Debater is not quite Ex-Machina, but is another milestone in the pursuit of AI.


Local Stars Set to Merge with a Bang in 2022

Astronomers at Calvin College have made the exciting prediction that two stars (KIC 9832227) orbiting very close to each other in the constellation Cygnus will merge in 5(ish) years. The immense energy released from the merge will result in a spectacular explosion visible to the naked eye from Earth. The prediction came after the lab discovered that the length of time it takes the pair to orbit each other is slowly decreasing, suggesting that they are getting closer and closer together. The stars are now so close that they share an atmosphere!

merging stars

Astronomers with very powerful telescopes observe exploding stars in distant galaxies all the time but the opportunity for everyone to see this event in the night is what makes this special. The last time an exploding star was seen from the naked eye from Earth was the in 1604, the remnants of which can be seen as the crab nebula. The star system KIC 9832227 is a mere 1,843 light years (10,800,000,000,000,000 miles) from Earth, meaning that it also takes 1,843 years for the light to reach us. Amazingly, if the predictions are correct, this means that the star system actually merged when the Romans were ruling England in 180AD!

Dogs Tilt Their Heads In Response To Your Emotions

Have you ever wondered what it means when your dog is looking at you with its head tilted to one side? Well, now researchers from The University of Bari have discovered that dogs tilt their heads to the left or right depending on what emotions you are displaying. When presented with images of faces showing fear, sadness, anger or happiness, dogs tended to turn their heads towards the left whereas they tended to turn their heads to the right in response to surprise or neutral expressions. Interestingly, the muts showed similar levels of stress or anxiety in response to a snarl and a smile, and that the two emotions might be difficult for dogs to separate.


The researchers also discovered that dogs have difficulty interpreting facial expressions of disgust and that you should try to convey a different emotion next time you dog comes back after rolling in some poop! Importantly, by processing different emotional stimuli in different parts of the brain, these findings tell us that dogs process emotions in a similar way to humans. Recognising emotions such as anger in the right hemisphere (head tilted to the left), stimulates physiological responses such as increasing heart rate (initiated from the right hemisphere) in a fight or flight response.