Man’s Best Friends

Grind for October 29th, 2018

“Love and fear. Everything the father of a family says must inspire one or the other.” – Joseph Joubert

For The Dogs

The Headline

MIT thought experiment suggests society values the life of a dog over that of a human criminal

The Grind

When it comes to designing self-driving cars, one of the biggest challenges is how to program a machine that can make the right decision in life-and-death situations. For example, if the car has no choice but to run down an elderly man or a young woman, who should it choose to kill?

To gauge the public’s opinion on this sort of question, researchers at MIT designed a program that asks specific questions about deaths caused by self-driving cars.

Since its launch in 2016, the program – called “Moral Machine” – has collected responses from more than 2 million people in over 230 countries.

The Details

According to survey results published this month, people valued the life of a child above all else, followed by that of a pregnant woman (no surprise here).

What is surprising is that respondents ranked the life of a dog above that of a human criminal. Cats came in dead last (no pun intended).

These results suggest that society views criminals like animals – or even lower than animals. And that’s a problem.

While the MIT team did not address this issue in its report, the results are certainly worth examining in future studies.

Flyin High

The Headline

Common weed found to produce effects similar to marijuana

The Grind

According to a report published this month in Science Advances, the common plant liverwort produces a chemical compound very similar to THC (found in marijuana).

The compound – called perrotetinene – relieves pain but does not produce psychoactive effects.

Based on experiments with mice, perrotetinene is able to relieve discomfort by interrupting pain signals sent by the brain.

The Details

Liverwort is a tiny, moss-like plant that grows in damp environments throughout the world.

But I wouldn’t recommend searching your garden for it.

Of the more than 9,000 species of liverwort out there, just 3 are known to produce perrotetinene.

“Nobody really notices liverworts because they’re so small,” explains phytochemist Douglas Kinghorn. “Sometimes you find important medicinal compounds in plants from unexpected sources.”

Scientists hope to use liverwort to produce a synthetic version of perrotetinene in a lab setting – hopefully to develop safer and more effective painkillers.

But as noted in the report, the drug is a long, long way from being commercially available.

Did you know… Pocahontas appeared on the back of the $20 bill in 1875.