Can Machines Think Yet? A Brief History of the Turing Test

Allan Olley

Last week headlines announced that a computer, known as Eugene Goostman, had passed the Turing Test at a competition at the Royal Society of London by University of Reading researchers. It was heralded as a milestone in artificial intelligence (by one of the competition organizers) and implied that a computer program had shown some significant amount of intelligence and fooled people into believing it was human after a robust interrogation. Turing originally predicted that in the year 2000 a computer might be able to hold up in a conversational test as well as a human for five minutes in 30 percent of trials. Which added a sense of officialness to the claim that Eugene passed. Quickly critics appeared to call into question whether Eugene would really have fooled anyone in a normal conversation.

Eugene managed to fool the judges in the competition about a third of the time. However this was achieved by Eugene presenting the persona of a Ukranian 13 year old with imperfect English, the competition was a speed test with only five minutes to evaluate multiple potential humans or machines at once via computer relayed chat (you can see examples here). Critics pointed out this means the program shows no real intellectual achievement and rather relies on convincing the judges that the agent is confused and that a longer time to take the test would be more informative.

A statue of Alan Turing in Manchester UK.

A statue of Alan Turing in Manchester UK.

In the 1950 paper “Computing Machinery and Intelligence” Alan Turing asked the question “Can machines think?” He then declares the definition of the terms of the question (machine and think) too vague to admit of a good answer and changed it to ask whether some digital computer could successfully play the imitation game. The imitation game imagined was one where two participants hid from the view of the third and conversed by passed notes or some other intermediary device, one of the two hidden participants would imitated a woman, the other would in fact be a woman and the third participant would have to guess which was which after conversing with them for some time. Turing imagined the computer in place of the man. It is ambiguous how exactly the game would be modified with the change and some have argued that it makes a difference which way we take the game to be played. Since Turing does not precisely define his tests all subsequent uses are in a sense their own version of a Turing Test. Modern versions of the Turing Test tend to assume that judges will converse with multiple participants some of whom are computers and others are humans and they will have to guess which is which. In any case the point of the redefinition of the question was as Turing put it to “drawing a fairly sharp line between the physical and the intellectual capacities of a man”. Turing imagined the discussions ranging from physical appearance through, mathematics, chess, and poetry writing, every imaginable skill or piece of knowledge might be called upon by the participants. Although put in terms of “thought” the original question seems to have been meant in the spirit of “can machines possess intelligence” or “can machines engage in intelligent behaviour”. It seems as though Turing was trying to demonstrate to his incredulous audience what he thought an intelligent machine would look like by example more than trying to define thought or intelligence as such.

In some ways Turing anticipated that a machine might succeed at the imitation without showing any intelligence. He notes “the best strategy for the machine may possibly be something other than imitation of the behaviour of a man”, but he thought it unlikely, outside the scope of the essay, and stipulated that for the purposes of the essay we should assume that the best strategy was really that of imitating a man’s behaviour. This illustrates that Turing was more concerned with illustrating how future machines might earn the appellation of thinking or intelligent rather than devising a strict test for success.

Despite these ambiguities Turing’s paper is widely cited and created an interest among both academic AI researchers and a wider public in the idea of a computer convincing humans that it was human as a test of its intellectual ability. A google search finds a first instance of “Turing’s Test” in 1959, and in 1962 it is noted that “Turing’s Test” has become standard nomenclature in the computer field and I find an instance of shortening the name to “Turing Test” in 1964. Over the years, in the popular imagination some have transformed the Turing Test with the idea that a computer that can pass the test is an autonomous intellect on par with a human person. Competitions like the one that crowned Eugene have been going on for some time, such as the Loebner Prize an annual competition since 1991.

The diversity of things covered by the name Turing Test is best illustrated by the most ubiquitous example of a Turing Test. CAPTCHA stands for Completely Automated Public Turing Test To Tell Computers and Humans Apart and the term was invented in 2000 by Luis von Ahn, Manuel Blum, Nicholas Hopper and John Langford of Carnegie Mellon University. Here the idea is to find a simple one question test administered by a computer that distinguishes humans from currently available computers by taking advantage of a specific skill (such as recognizing distorted text) that humans are good at but current computers find impossible. A computer passing this test would not require the variety of abilities Turing imagined, but it serves to deter computer programs that might otherwise spread unwanted advertising in internet forums or do other dubious or nefarious work.

The question of whether machines can think actually has an older pedigree than Turing or the modern computer. An example of this is a 1939 essay in Astounding Science Fiction “Tools for Brains” which begins with the line: “CAN machines think? The question keeps coming up every time a new kind of calculating machine is invented…” However Turing’s imitation game has left an indelible mark on the question.

Eugene is not the first machine that some have claimed passed the Turing Test. In terms of other claimants to having passed the Turing test, in 2011 Cleverbot made similar headlines to Eugene managed to achieve a rating of humaness close to that of humans from the large number of volunteer judges at tech festival in India. You can chat to a low powered version of Cleverbot on-line. Perhaps the first machine that some claimed passed the Turing Test was unveiled in an academic paper in 1966. ELIZA was a program that intended to use a limited variety of stock phrases and pattern recognition to imitate a therapy session to explore natural language interfaces. If a user mentioned hating their mother ELIZA would ask to you hated any other relatives and so on. Despite the very limited capabilities of the machine some users claimed an emotional connection with ELIZA and felt that it had human quality. ELIZA’s creator Joseph Weizenbaum was dismayed by the credulity of users taken in by ELIZA. Programming versions of ELIZA for academic and home computers became an activity of some through the 70s and 80s.

In my experience of on-line discussion if someone brought up the Turing Test as a measure of machine intelligence, some wag would counter by saying that people’s responses to ELIZA showed that the concept was bankrupt. This is a very large leap, but the success of programs like ELIZA have given many people pause. With more rigour some academics have made influential criticism of the Turing Test for focusing on behaviour and some have argued it is in principle impossible for a digital computer to think. The most prominent such argument is probably John R. Searle’s “Chinese Room argument” (explicated in his paper “Minds, Brains, and Programs”). Searle took up the question “Could a machine think?” and gives an intricate argument that electronic digital computers lack the causal powers to instantiate mental state or a mind, whatever their behaviour. There is a vast literature in philosophy and cognitive science discussing and disputing Searle’s argument.

In 1950 Turing anticipated many objections to his example of an intelligent machine. A pertinent qualification arose around the objection: “May not machines carry out something which ought to be described as thinking but which is very different from what a man does?” He said that this was a strong objection, but that if the machine succeeds in the imitation game that should obviate the objection. This implies that Turing accepted that an intelligent machine might not have a human mind or thought processes. In fact he turned to the imitation game as a way to avoid the prejudices of a conventional definition, where it just may be by definition “thinking” is a human activity carried out in an idiosyncratic human way and one might even be able to say that a computer does not “really” do such things as arithmetic or play chess. Note also Turing justified his focus on a behavioural criterion for approaching the question because he thought we necessarily evaluate intelligence and understanding in others behaviourally (citing an example of someone being quized about a sonnet they wrote asked about their use of metaphor, meter etc. to show they understood the poem). In a way Turing seemed to think that we are all constantly being subjected to the Turing Test in our daily lives as people try to judge our character as intellectual beings.

The Turing Test is part of Turing’s legacy and one that, at least in its emphasis on the imitation game aspect of it, might have surprised Turing. Turing saw the way forward for machine intelligence as on the one hand attempting to program specific intellectual tasks such as chess playing into computers, and on the other hand attempting to create learning machines capable of developing capacities and knowledge like a human child. The past 64 years has seen dramatic successes in programming machines to solve some specific tasks such as playing a winning chess game. The success in creating learning machines of the type Turing imagined is far less dramatic and more limited. Also, success in tasks such as chess has not translated into success producing machines with generally applicable skills in the way Turing might have anticipated.

There will almost certainly be many more headlines announcing another contender as first computer to pass the Turing Test. When or if it will be definitively passed by a computer is a very difficult question. Also, just what it will mean remains obscure.

A good entry level discussion and survey of the questions around the Turing Test is found in the first part of the CBC radio ideas episode Mind and Machine by my friend Dan Falk (the second part is concerned with the implications of artificial intelligence for our present and future).

The Royal Society where the competition was performed is about 39 miles east of Reading (taking University of Reading as the zero point) or 15 megabytes east of Reading in terms of the length of 5-bit tape required to store that much data.

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Weekly Roundup

Here’s how cities say “stay out” with anti-homeless design, part of the wider phenomenon of hostile architecture.

If it walks like eugenics and quacks like eugenics… Dozens of female inmates were sterilized without consent in California, and a Virginia man’s plea bargain included a promise to get a vasectomy.

Up to 75 CDC researchers may have been exposed to live anthrax.

The first description of fellatio in male bears has been published. The study attributes the behaviour (observed in captive bears) to an absence of maternal suckling, but its claim that mammals rarely engage in non-copulative sexual behaviours suggests that their lit review was incomplete.

Scientists weigh in on the commonly misused terms that drive them crazy. Bonus: the pseudoscientific claims that drive us crazy. And speaking of pseudoscience, Dr. Oz admitted before a senate committee that the weight-loss ingredients he endorses aren’t miraculous, but he defended his right to employ “flowery language.”

Some of Wyoming’s math & science professors, as well as some of its churches, support reformed educational standards that include climate change and evolution, while others criticize them for requiring “a materialistic explanation for any phenomenon addressed by science” or for leading to negative economic consequences for the energy-exporting state if global warming is taught in schools. [via i09]

“Suicidal thoughts” warnings on antidepressants may have indirectly led to increased suicide attempts.

Whooping cough, a vaccine-preventable bacterial infection that can be fatal in infants, is now an epidemic in California. At least one sufferer of last year’s outbreak thinks she knows who to blame.

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Weekly Roundup

Never judge someone before you walk a mile in their pyjamas: thanks to “enclothed cognition” it turns out that clothes affect our perception [podcast].

The FIFA World Cup has begun. Here’s Scientific American’s rundown of soccer science, old and new. Open wide!

Be careful what you say around the cooler; Gwyneth Paltrow reminds us that water has feelings too.

Rare diseases often lack clinical attention, public awareness, and fundraising campaigns; many are undocumented, unnamed, or have no known cause or treatment. FORGE (Finding of Rare Disease Genes in Canada), a massive coordinated study, has identified the genetic mutations associated with 146 rare childhood diseases, thanks to high-speed sequencing technologies. 67 of the genes hadn’t been linked to a disease before.

It turns out economics is for chimps.

Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea virus (PEDv), a livestock epidemic of uncertain origin affecting pigs in the US, has spread to over 30 states, wiped out nearly 10% of the American pig population, and increased the price of bacon.

Headlines far and wide proclaimed that a computer program has “passed the Turing test.” What they really mean is that by pretending to be Eugene Goostman, a teenager from the Ukraine with a poor grasp of English, the program won a University of Reading contest by convincing 1 in 3 judges that it was a human being, satisfying Turing’s predictions for the capabilities of artificial intelligence for the year 2000. So perhaps the resulting skepticism is warranted.

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The Ultimate Filter Bubble

Mike Thicke

As if we needed reasons to be more worried about Google taking over the world, a new study suggests that it could have an enormous impact on elections merely by manipulating search results. Researchers Robert Epstein and Ronald Robertson of the American Institute of Behavioral Research and Technology found that they could “sway the voting preferences of undecided voters by 15% or more” merely by biasing search results presented to research subjects. This is interesting—and scary—in its own respect, but it also has connections to some of my earlier posts about Internet filter bubbles and what I’ve called the “Internet Observer Effect“.

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Weekly Roundup

LEGO has announced that it has approved one of the finalists in its Ideas product competition: a trio of female scientists based on Ellen Kooijman (aka Alatriel Elensar)’s Female Minifigure Set. It will be marketed as the LEGO Research Institute, and will be eventually available in stores.

Here are anonymous comments made by “muzzled” Canadian government scientists about the state of science under the Harper Government. Yikes! On a related note, Stephen Harper urged Canadians to “listen to the scientific evidence” when it comes to vaccinating children.

How many polar bears are there? It turns out that’s a tricky question.

Solar roadways have made a big splash with a successful Indiegogo campaign and flashy video. The husband-and-wife team of Scott and Julie Brusaw want to replace asphalt roads, sidewalks, and parking lots with durable, LED-programmable, and replaceable hexagonal panels that would generate electricity, with additional benefits including warning drivers of obstacles or animal crossings, responding to parking lot conditions, and providing infrastructure for buried power, phone, and internet lines. Unfortunately, critics figure that the project’s estimated $56 trillion price tag will be an impediment to scalability, as will problems such as keeping the glass layers clean and preventing traffic hacking.

The Chemical Blog describes the chemical composition of tattoo ink, which is surprisingly unregulated.

There is more fructose in many soft drinks and sweetened juices than their labels disclose, according to a new study in Nutrition. This is a problem for the Corn Refiners Association, who claim that High-Fructose Corn Syrup (or “corn sugar,” as we learn in this helpful video) is practically equivalent to sucrose (table sugar; glucose-fructose in a 1:1 ratio).

The FDA’s cost-benefit analysis for new e-cigarette regulations includes a “lost pleasure” factor which accounts for the expected decrease in lifetime pleasure for those who quit.

Sometimes all you need is a good headline: Researchers Develop Robot That Lets Them Feel Softness of Virtual Breasts.

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These are not the voters you’re looking for

Mike Thicke

People across the political spectrum have long recognized that our democratic system disenfranchises the unborn. Those on the left tend to worry that those alive today are pillaging natural resources from future generations. Those on the right tend to worry that excessive public spending will force our children or grandchildren into economic slavery. Either way, people in the future will be forced to live with the consequences of our present decisions, but they have no say in those decisions (though Greg Lusk has problematized this reasoning).

How to solve this problem? Philosopher Thomas Wells proposes a direct solution: give voting powers to “trustee” organizations “such as charitable foundations, environmentalist advocacy groups or non-partisan think tanks.” These organizations would have a block of votes equivalent to something like 10% of the overall electorate. If there are 10 million eligible voters in an election, we would assign 1 million votes to these organizations. Wells’s idea is that these organizations would vote with the best interests of the future in mind. Not only could they affect the results of elections, but Wells predicts they would shape the political conversation as politicians tailor their policies to appeal to this powerful voting block.

Alex Tabarrok over at Marginal Revolution finds Wells’s proposal “laughable”. He sees Wells’s proposal for a select group of trustees as merely replicating Wells’s own view of how the future ought to look. Instead, Taborrok proposes the economist’s universal solution: the market. Specifically, prediction markets. While I share some of Taborrok’s skepticism of Wells’s proposal, I find Taborrok’s proposal even less realistic. I shall focus my critique on two problems: an epistemic problem and a relevance problem.

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Weekly Roundup – Supersized

Welcome to a super sized weekly roundup! I’m on vacation next week; here’s a double helping of stories to keep you sated until next time.

A new, disputed study from Cornell’s Food and Brand Lab suggests that  eating chicken on the bone increased aggression in children compared with eating pre-cut pieces. It sounds like fun research: the drumstick-eaters “were also more likely leave the 9-foot circle radius, jump around, and stand on the picnic tables without permission.” The Cornell Lab, home of the endless soup bowl, studies the social and environmental factors influencing food consumption. 

A climate scientist explains how she explains climate change to her fellow evangelical Christians: why should they care about a changing climate?

Don’t panic, but Mount St. Helens’ magma is repressurizing.

“Selfitis,” or the obsessive taking and posting of photos of oneself, isn’t a new mental disorder, but many of us were fooled by the satirical story claiming that the American Psychiatric Association coined the new disease category.

Ketchup, perhaps the tastiest of the non-Newtonian fluids, is notoriously hard to pour from a glass bottle. NPR goes into the details of the condiment’s physics that were illustrated in George Zaidan’s TED talk. If manufacturers ever incorporate LiquiGlide, the food-safe, potentially profit-eating surface coating, into their containers, it will be a whole new ballgame.

Coke and Pepsi have bowed to public pressure and removed brominated vegetable oil (BVO) from their soft drinks. Popular Science explains what BVO is and what it was doing in soda in the first place.

We may know the secret of how the pyramids were built.

Gender, science, and bad reporting: A study in Nature [paywall] revealing genes on the Y chromosome that fulfill the same function as those on the X chromosome is publicized as demonstrating sexual difference, the very opposite of the study’s findings. What’s behind this “sex difference paradigm?” [via Feminist Philosophers]. Also, duck penises are all well and good, but what about duck vaginas? Ed Yong at Nat Geo’s blog Not Exactly Rocket Science explores the combination of biological and social factors that influence the differential treatment of animals’ sex organs.

Useful Science is a new site that offers bite-sized summaries of useful science, collected by a team of mainly Canadian grad students. Another new useful website is Something Pop, which helps you make decisions by ranking the components of your choices.

A meta-analysis debunks most of the headline-worthy claims about the strength of the ovulatory cycle over women’s preferences. [via Slate]

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Weekly Roundup

Morse code telegraph clubs, like this one in Omaha, offer public engagement and historical reenactments of a previously ubiquitous technology. No blockbuster protagonists should be without this pivotal skill.

In Oklahoma’s haste to conduct a science experiment on two men behind a veil of secrecy, our state has disgraced itself before the nation and world.” The most recent in a series of botched executions took place in Oklahoma after an untested mixture of drugs was administered to death-row inmate Clayton Lockett, fuelling the debate over capital punishment. States are unable to use traditional lethal injection drugs, which are no longer produced by pharmaceutical companies.

Food isn’t irradiated to prevent foodborne illness because consumers are afraid of the word “radiation.” I’m sure this topic was debated at the Food Safety Summit, right before the food poisoning.

Did you ever wonder how sloths breathe upside down? Me neither, but here‘s the explanation.

Google is removing ads for crisis pregnancy centres (counselling women to avoid contraception and abortions) that appear when users search for abortion providers; 79% of these ads falsely suggest that the centres provide medical and abortion services.

By now we know that sitting is killing us, but there are more benefits to being upright now that a new study links walking and creativity.

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Do sports perpetuate or help fight discrimination?

I look at an article from sports sociology that suggests descriptions of athletes might perpetuate inaccurate stereotypes.

Like many other people, I was shocked to hear the alleged tape recording of Donald Sterling saying that his girlfriend should not take photographs with black people, or bring them to basketball games (but she can bring them to bed). I don’t follow sports very closely anymore; I didn’t know that Sterling, at least according to the Guardian, made millions as a landlord through racist housing policies. Maybe we should have seen this coming.

Some have argued that the emphasis on Sterling’s comments obscured the larger, more

“In 1997, the 50th anniversary of Jackie Robinson joining Major League Baseball, his old team the Dodgers had the exact same number of American-born Blacks on the opening day roster as they did in 1947: one.” J. R. Woodward (2004)

harmful, actions that he has taken (the Guardian suggests this, as does the link below).  In particular, they point to the housing discrimination he was accused of perpetrating as an owner of 100’s of properties in the Los Angeles area. Housing discrimination is terrible, and (like all forms of discrimination) should not be tolerated.

However, many of these arguments that suggest housing discrimination is “actually harmful” imply that Sterling’s other actions were largely inconsequential. I thought that, perhaps, this position might stem from a belief that in the realm of sport, discrimination was not significant. In fact, it might even be thought that sports are a way for those frequently discriminated against to get ahead, since, on the face of it, it would seem that on-field performance would be the dominant driver of athletic success. There are obvious reasons to resist at least the first part of this description, for example, racism against black soccer players in Spain is so pervasive that the players can plan their responses in advance. 

Still, I wondered, do sports perpetuate or help fight discrimination? There is obviously no cut and dry answer to this question. It is too broad a question to be answered directly: there are many different sports, and too many ways of thinking about discrimination for the question to be taken seriously. However, in thinking about the question, I took a look at the academic literature on sociology of sport. I found it surprising that this literature is not more heavily cited in recent discussions of racism in sports.

Here I’m going to share excerpts from a paper entitled “Professional Football Scouts: An Investigation of Racial Stacking” by J. R. Woodward (2004). The study covered in the article analyzes draft guides that describe the suitability of college athletes for the NFL draft, paying particular attention to the descriptions of the perceived physical and mental capabilities of white and African American players. I quote this paper it because the study is interesting, but also because it has a fairly detailed literature review with some interesting studies. Given that it seems the sports media perpetuates the messages discussed in this study from 2010, and broadcasts to millions of people, I would guess the messages we receive about sports and athletes portray more bias than we immediately realize.

Literature Review

“Coakley (1998) notes, there are roughly 20 times more African American physicians and lawyers than top professional athletes; nor have most sports truly integrated to allow for equal participation and rewards between the races. In 1997, the 50th anniversary of Jackie Robinson joining Major League Baseball, his old team the Dodgers had the exact same number of American-born Blacks on the opening day roster as they did in 1947: one.”

“Whites dominate most sports at the collegiate and high school level; football, basketball, track, and baseball—sports where Whites are underrepresented—make up only 4 out of at least 40 sports played competitively.”

“The belief that sport has been a source of upward mobility for African Americans has been rebutted in previous research and is not the object of this project (see Sailes, 1998; and Smith, 1993, 1995). What is of interest, however, is the tenacity of this view. Personal beliefs about race and sport are often solidified when society at large seems to share and reinforce these beliefs, regard- less of their veracity.”

“One manifestation of our “race logic” (how we come to understand racial phenomena in society) is the link between race and athletics, principally the belief in African American athletic superiority. Unfortunately, concomitant with this view has been the conviction of mental inferiority; i.e., the “dumb jock” stereotype (Hoberman, 1997; Eitzen, 1999). American history is replete with academic, intellectual, and social discussions of the primitive nature of Blacks, whose supposed strength, power, and sexual aggression made them appear almost animalistic, an assertion strengthened by their perceived lack of innate cognitive abilities (Mead, 1985).”

“Racial ideology, then, was situated in a particular, disparaging view of African Americans as physical, not mental beings. Athletics was just one of many endeavors in which this view was manifested (Coakley, 1998).”

“Racial stacking is the over- or underrepresentation of players of certain races in particular positions in team sports (Coakley, 1998). For example, quarterbacks in football and catchers in baseball have traditionally been White, whereas Black players are more often found playing in the outfield in baseball and as running backs or wide receivers in football.”

“Loy and McElvogue (1970) presented the first study on racial stacking by examining the racial makeup of baseball and football in America. Their findings suggested that White players are more likely to be found in what they termed central positions (i.e., discrimination is most likely to occur at central positions in any social organization, where the most interaction occurs).”

The Study

“In this study, an assessment was made to determine whether scouting reports of college quarterbacks, centers, inside linebackers, and tight ends relied on mental descriptors of White players and physical descriptors of African American players. At a basic level, scouts are individuals raised in contemporary U.S. society with all the implied racial beliefs. Because physical and mental abilities relative to football can be extremely subjective, it follows that descriptions of athletes in various positions would differ for Whites and African Americans, based solely on the ascribed characteristic of race. The first three positions, which were included in the pilot study, are commonly referred to as “thinking positions.” A question for this research, following the dominant U.S. race logic, is whether White players in the thinking positions are described more in terms of their mental attributes and, conversely, whether African American players in these positions are described more in terms of their presumed physical attributes. The fourth position, tight end, is not typically considered a thinking position and will be used, in essence, as a control group.”

“As with the 5-year sample, African American athletes described in the 2003 draft guides (see Table 4) were more likely to be described by pro scouts in physical (â = .298, p < .001) terms relative to Whites, and were less likely to be described in mental terms than were Whites (â = –.599, p < .001; see Table 5).”

“Of primary importance for racial stacking is the way we “interpret actions and relationships” as Coakley (2004) contends. At the most basic level, stacking involves individuals witnessing action and trying to make sense of that action using preconceived notions and racially informed cogni- tive grids. When scouts assess a player’s talents and abilities, they are not doing so in a vacuum, rather, they are filtering this new material through countless layers of conscious and unconscious understandings, both real and perceived. Objectivity can, therefore, be very difficult to attain and prior beliefs quite difficult to eradicate.”

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Weekly Roundup

You’re not you when you’re hungry: research suggests low blood sugar and irritability are linked, especially irritability at one’s spouse as measured by pricking voodoo dolls and punishment via loud noise. Cartoonist Maki Naro at Popular Science illustrates the “hangry” phenomenon here and here.

It’s a big week for ancient history: puppy prints on Roman tiles and a translation of a fixed Greek wrestling match.

What does your baby cry? According to evolutionary biology, to stop you from getting to work on a sibling.

Cats make terrible research subjects: “Very often, they didn’t participate in the experiment or they walked in the wrong direction.”

Our brains are bad judges of distance, imagining our destinations to be closer than equivalent distances behind us. In addition, we evaluate people and businesses more favourably if they are ahead of us rather than behind us.

It’s been an interesting week for language use in the communication of animal research. Here’s an interesting debate about the “female penis” of Neotrogla curvata. NPR describes how “Albatrosses are 100 percent faithful. That’s not to say that albatross dads don’t occasionally have a dalliance with ladies who aren’t their mates.” Finally, at the Daily Mail, we are treated to “Men really are less likely to say ‘not tonight dear, I have a headache’ than women, new research shows” and “Women lose their libido when they are in pain while men do not.” Top-notch reporting on the research on sex differences in libido response to pain, as long as you keep in mind that the men and women were mice.

YouTube science show Smarter Every Day has a wonderful video showing counterintuitive behaviour of a helium balloon in a moving minivan. There’s a great explanation at i09.

If nothing gets done, it’s not your fault: you just have the lazy gene. Or the procrastination gene. I’m sure the boss will understand.

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