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Three types of depression identified

According to the World Health Organization, nearly 300 million people worldwide suffer from depression and these rates are on the rise. Yet, doctors and scientists have a poor understanding of what causes this debilitating condition and for some who experience it, medicines don’t help.

Scientists from the Neural Computational Unit at the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology Graduate University (OIST), in collaboration with their colleagues at Nara Institute of Science and Technology and clinicians at Hiroshima University, have for the first time identified three sub-types of depression. They found that one out of these sub-types seems to be untreatable by Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs), the most commonly prescribed medicines for the condition. The study was published in the journal Scientific Reports.

Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that influences our moods, interactions with other people, sleep patterns and memory. SSRIs are thought to take effect by boosting the levels of serotonin in the brain. However, these drugs do not have the same effect on everyone, and in some people, depression does not improve even after taking them. “It has always been speculated that different types of depression exist, and they influence the effectiveness of the drug. But there has been no consensus,” says Prof. Kenji Doya.

For the study, the scientists collected clinical, biological, and life history data from 134 individuals — half of whom were newly diagnosed with depression and the other half who had no depression diagnosis- using questionnaires and blood tests. Participants were asked about their sleep patterns, whether or not they had stressful issues, or other mental health conditions.

Researchers also scanned participants’ brains using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to map brain activity patterns in different regions. The technique they used allowed them to examine 78 regions covering the entire brain, to identify how its activities in different regions are correlated. “This is the first study to identify depression sub-types from life history and MRI data,” says Prof. Doya.

With over 3000 measurable features, including whether or not participants had experienced trauma, the scientists were faced with the dilemma of finding a way to analyze such a large data set accurately. “The major challenge in this study was to develop a statistical tool that could extract relevant information for clustering similar subjects together,” says Dr. Tomoki Tokuda, a statistician and the lead author of the study. He therefore designed a novel statistical method that would help detect multiple ways of data clustering and the features responsible for it. Using this method, the researchers identified a group of closely-placed data clusters, which consisted of measurable features essential for accessing mental health of an individual. Three out of the five data clusters were found to represent different sub-types of depression.

The three distinct sub-types of depression were characterized by two main factors: functional connectivity patterns synchronized between different regions of the brain and childhood trauma experience. They found that the brain’s functional connectivity in regions that involved the angular gyrus — a brain region associated with processing language and numbers, spatial cognition, attention, and other aspects of cognition — played a large role in determining whether SSRIs were effective in treating depression.

Patients with increased functional connectivity between the brain’s different regions who had also experienced childhood trauma had a sub-type of depression that is unresponsive to treatment by SSRIs drugs, the researchers found. On the other hand, the other two subtypes — where the participants’ brains did not show increased connectivity among its different regions or where participants had not experienced childhood trauma — tended to respond positively to treatments using SSRIs drugs.

This study not only identifies sub-types of depression for the first time, but also identifies some underlying factors and points to the need to explore new treatment techniques. “It provides scientists studying neurobiological aspects of depression a promising direction in which to pursue their research,” says Prof. Doya. In time, he and his research team hope that these results will help psychiatrists and therapists improve diagnoses and treat their patients more effectively.

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AI systems shed light on root cause of religious conflict: Humanity is not naturally violent

Artificial intelligence can help us to better understand the causes of religious violence and to potentially control it, according to a new Oxford University collaboration. The study is one of the first to be published that uses psychologically realistic AI — as opposed to machine learning.

The study published in The Journal for Artificial Societies and Social Stimulation, combined computer modelling and cognitive psychology to create an AI system able to mimic human religiosity, allowing them to better understand the conditions, triggers and patterns for religious violence.

The study is built around the question of whether people are naturally violent, or if factors such as religion can cause xenophobic tension and anxiety between different groups, that may or may not lead to violence?

The findings reveal that people are a peaceful species by nature. However, in a wide range of contexts they are willing to endorse violence — particularly when others go against the core beliefs which define their identity.

Although the research focuses on specific historic events, the findings can be applied to any occurrence of religious violence, and used to understand the motivations behind it. Particularly events of radicalised Islam, when people’s patriotic identity conflicts with their religions one, e.g. the Boston bombing and London terror attacks. The team hope that the results can be used to support governments to address and prevent social conflict and terrorism.

Conducted by a cohort of researchers from universities including Oxford, Boston University and the University of Agder, Norway, the paper does not explicitly simulate violence, but, instead focuses on the conditions that enabled two specific periods of xenophobic social anxiety, that then escalated to extreme physical violence.

The conflict commonly referred to as the Northern Ireland Troubles is regarded as one of the most violent periods in Irish history. The conflict, involving the British army and various Republican and Loyalist paramilitary groups, spanned three decades, claimed the lives of approximately 3,500 people and saw a further 47,000 injured.

Although a much shorter period of tension, the 2002 Gujurat riots of India were equally devastating. The three-day period of inter-communal violence between the Hindu and Muslim communities in the western Indian state of Gujarat, began when a Sabarmarti Express train filled with Hindu pilgrims, stopped in the, predominantly Muslim town of Godhra, and ended with the deaths of more than 2,000 people.

Of the study’s use of psychologically realistic AI, Justin said: ‘99% of the general public are most familiar with AI that uses machine learning to automate human tasks like — classifying something, such as tweets to be positive or negative etc., but our study uses something called multi-agent AI to create a psychologically realistic model of a human, for example — how do they think, and particularly how do we identify with groups? Why would someone identify as Christian, Jewish or Muslim etc. Essentially how do our personal beliefs align with how a group defines itself?’

To create these psychologically realistic AI agents, the team use theories in cognitive psychology to mimic how a human being would naturally think and process information. This is not a new or radical approach — but it is the first time it has been applied physically in research. There is an entire body of theoretical literature that compares the human mind to a computer programme — but no one has taken this information and physically programmed it into a computer, it has just been an analogy. The team programmed these rules for cognitive interaction within their AI programme, to show how an individual’s beliefs match up with a group situation.

They did this by looking at how humans process information against their own personal experiences. Combining some AI models (mimicking people) that have had positive experiences with people from other faiths, and others that have had negative or neutral encounters. They did this to study the escalation and de-escalation of violence over time, and how it can, or cannot be managed.

To represent everyday society and how people of different faiths interact in the real world, they created a simulated environment and populated it with hundreds — or thousands (or millions), of the human model agents. The only difference being that these ‘people’ all have slightly different variables — age, ethnicity etc.

The simulated environments themselves have a basic design. Individuals have a space that they exist in, but within this space there is a certain probability that they will interact with environmental hazards, such as natural disasters and disease etc. and at some point, each other.

The findings revealed that the most common conditions that enable long periods of mutually escalating xenophobic tension occur when social hazards, such as outgroup members who deny the group’s core beliefs or sacred values, overwhelm people to the point that they can no longer deal with them. It is only when people’s core belief systems are challenged, or they feel that their commitment to their own beliefs is questioned, that anxiety and agitations occur. However, this anxiety only led to violence in 20% of the scenarios created — all of which were triggered by people from either outside of the group, or within, going against the group’s core beliefs and identity.

Some religions have a tendency to encourage extreme displays of devotion to a chosen faith, and this can then take the form of violence against a group or individual of another faith, or someone who has broken away from the group.’

While other research has tried to use traditional AI and machine learning approaches to understand religious violence, they have delivered mixed results and issues regarding biases against minority communities in machine learning also raise ethical issues. The paper marks the first time that multi-agent AI has been used to tackle this question and create psychologically realistic computer models.

Justin said: ‘Ultimately, to use AI to study religion or culture, we have to look at modelling human psychology because our psychology is the foundation for religion and culture, so the root causes of things like religious violence rest in how our minds process the information that our world presents it.’

Understanding the root cause of religious violence allows people to use the model to both contain and minimise these conflicts, as well as increase them. However, used effectively, this research can be a positive tool that supports stable societies and community integration.

Off the back of this project the team have recently secured funding for a new two-year project, at the Center for Modeling Social Systems in Kristiansand, Norway that studies demographic shifts related to immigration and integration in Europe such as the Roma in Slovakia, and the resettlement of Syrian refugees in Lesbos to Norway, in order to help the Norwegian government to optimise the integration process.

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Babies born at home have more diverse, beneficial bacteria, study finds

Infants born at home have more diverse bacteria in their guts and feces, which may affect their developing immunity and metabolism, according to a study in Scientific Reports.

Understanding why babies born at home have more diverse microbiota for at least a month after birth, compared with those born in a hospital, could help prevent disease later in life. The human microbiome consists of trillions of bacteria, fungi and viruses that live on and in our bodies, many of which benefit our health and prevent chronic conditions such as obesity, diabetes, asthma and gut inflammatory disorders. Microbes transmitted from mother to baby help prevent chronic disease.

“The reasons for the differences between infants born at home versus in hospitals are not known, but we speculate that common hospital interventions like early infant bathing and antibiotic eye prophylaxis or environmental factors — like the aseptic environment of the hospital — may be involved,” said senior author Maria Gloria Dominguez-Bello, a professor in Rutgers University-New Brunswick’s Department of Biochemistry and Microbiology and Department of Anthropology.

In the study, researchers followed 35 infants and their mothers for a month after birth. Fourteen infants were born at home (four of them in water) and 21 in the hospital. All 35 infants were delivered vaginally without interventions (including no maternal antibiotic treatment) and were exclusively breastfed. All infants were delivered by midwives who supported mothers, and they all had skin-to-skin contact with their babies, and began breastfeeding shortly after birth.

In a related analysis, fecal samples of month-old infants born in a hospital showed greater inflammatory gene expression in a human epithelial cell model, compared with infants born at home. Epithelial cells cover organ linings, skin and mouths.

While more research is needed, the study suggests that revamping the hospital environment for non-high risk births, so it more closely approximates home conditions, may be beneficial.

The study included researchers from Rutgers, New York University, Sejong University in Seoul, South Korea, and the University of California San Francisco.

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Apple's newest iPad Pros hands-on: The iPad X we expected – CNET


Sarah Tew/CNET

I couldn’t tell if I was looking at the 12.9-inch iPad Pro or the 11-inch one. That’s a testament to how Apple has shrunken down the Pro lineup, and seems to have delivered on a more portable high-octane iPad this year. But can it get any closer to replacing my laptop?

The new iPad Pros announced at Apple’s October event in New York are pretty big changes, if you’re looking to maximize display in a metal frame. Both new versions fit larger displays in smaller, thinner bodies. Face ID has been added nearly invisibly, built into the thinner bezel via a depth-sensing TrueDepth camera, just like the iPhone X has. But there’s no notch, which makes it seem a lot more subtle.

That also means no home button. It’s more like a big, magic window now. But with a display and a beefed-up A12X processor inside that are promising this much, it seems like it’s time for the iPad to unleash even more inputs and accessories. Apple has delivered on some, and not on others.


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Lighter, more screen and Face ID hides away

I held both new iPad Pro sizes for a little while in Apple’s demo room, and they’re sometimes hard to tell apart. The 12.9-inch version is lighter, and finally feels one-handable, provided you’re OK with keeping a sheet of metal and glass in one hand. I had an urge to coddle these tablets more than ever. The bit of bezel around the edge of both helps give a hand-grip zone, but I really wanted these iPads in protective cases.

It seems like the 12.9-inch version is the most impressive change this time around. The new 12.9-inch version has a smaller footprint than last year’s model, while the 11-inch Pro fits a larger display into a size very similar to last year’s 10.5-inch Pro.

The iPad Pro’s displays now have slightly curved corners like the iPhone X and Apple Watch, but it has an LCD screen Apple has called “Liquid Retina” that should be similar or better to the iPhone XR display. Display resolutions this time around are 2,388×1,668 for the 11-inch, and 2,732×2,048 for the 12.9-inch, both 264 ppi (the entry-level iPad has a 9.7-inch 2,048×1,536 display, by comparison, with the same pixel density).

For me, smaller is better. The difference between iPads feels a lot subtler, though, similar to the bump-up between the iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max. The 12.9-inch version costs an extra $200 per storage configuration. For a full comparison of specs and what’s new, read our breakdown.

USB-C, with a few caveats

USB-C replaces Lightning on the new iPad Pro, which sounds exciting, but doesn’t necessarily mean what you think it does. The new Pros will support USB accessories and export video to monitors, but last year’s Pros could do that too, with dongles. More interestingly, the iPad Pro can use its USB-C port to reverse-charge other USB-C gadgets, or an iPhone via a USB-C-to-Lightning cable. It also could mean buying USB-C charging cables and adapters for the Pro will be a lot easier (and more affordable).

Apple has already said that the USB-C port won’t support external storage. However, app developers could design specific USB-C accessories that do specific things. Not needing to connect via Lightning could open up new possibilities. (Apple does support SD card readers over USB-C, but only for transferring photos and videos to the iPad.)

It also brings in a few complications. There’s no headphone jack on the new Pros, and there’s no Lightning port, either — so Apple’s own Lightning EarPods packed with current iPhones won’t work. And it also means the existing Apple Pencil won’t work. Instead, there’s a new Pencil.

iPad Pro 2018 apple penciliPad Pro 2018 apple pencil

The Pencil now charges against the side of the iPad (and has a tappable side that performs actions).


Sarah Tew/CNET

Pencil: Now magnetic, wireless-charging, with double-tap sides

Apple’s improved Pencil stylus now charges inductively via a magnetic strip on the side of the iPad: snap it on and it charges. The Pencil’s still round, but that flat side also keeps it from rolling away on a table. The Pencil’s latency and pressure sensitivity are the same as last year (the new Pros also have similar ProMotion faster-refresh displays as last year, up to 120Hz).

There’s also a new double-tap control that can do specific things in particular apps. Sketch apps and Apple’s Notes app use it to swap between the last brush and the eraser. Other apps could use it in other ways. But the double-tap action seems limited to a single action at a time, almost like how Apple’s wireless AirPods’ double-tap functions work.

These changes are welcome. But, I’m not wild that Apple’s asking us to buy a whole new Pencil.

iPad Pro 2018iPad Pro 2018

Sarah Tew/CNET

A new keyboard folio case

Apple has its own unfoldable keyboard case that seems like shades of what Logitech has made for previous iPads. The case is powered via Apple’s new smart connector on the Pro models, and unfolds to a more lap-friendly base where the iPad docks into the keyboard like a little laptop. It looks like a nice enough case, but I haven’t lap-tested or spent enough time typing on it. But it’s missing the thing I wanted most: a trackpad like the Google Pixel Slate and Microsoft Surface keyboards have. And it’s also expensive, at $179 for the 11-inch version or $199 for the 12.9-inch version.

Fancy, and $$$

The iPad Pro seems like a perfected vision of where Apple’s touchscreen computers are heading, but these tablets are expensive this year. Starting at $799 or $999 for 64GB of storage means you’ll want the next tier up at least, plus the $129 Pencil and some sort of keyboard case (Apple’s or otherwise). Expect to pay well over $1,000. At those prices, I wonder, would you have been better off with an older iPad model and a laptop instead? Last year’s 10.5-inch iPad Pro started at $649 for the same amount of storage.

But, if you were dreaming of an even better art tool at a still-super-high price, maybe this was the iPad you were waiting for. Even more than the beefed-up hardware, these iPads will only be as good as the new apps that make the most of them.

Of course, we’ll have a full review on CNET at some point. These are just early thoughts in a demo room.

Follow CNET’s live blog for real-time coverage of the Brooklyn iPad event.

The new iPad Pro: Everything we know so far

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Childhood antibiotics and antacids may be linked to heightened obesity risk

Young children prescribed antibiotics and, to a lesser extent, drugs to curb excess stomach acid, may be at heightened risk of obesity, suggests research published online in the journal Gut.

These drugs, particularly if taken for lengthy periods, may alter gut microbes that have been associated with weight gain, explain the researchers.

The composition of gut bacteria (the microbiome) has been linked to various aspects of human health, including obesity. And certain drugs, such as antibiotics and acid suppressants-histamine 2 receptor antagonists (H2RA) and proton pump inhibitors (PPIs)-can alter the type and volume of bacteria in the gut.

To try and find out if exposure to these drugs in early childhood might increase the risk of obesity, the researchers looked at the medicines prescribed to 333,353 infants, whose medical records had been input into the US Military Health System database between 2006 and 2013, in the first two years of their lives.

In all, 241, 502 (72.5%) had been prescribed an antibiotic; 39,488 (just under 12%) an H2RA; and 11,089 (just over 3%) a PPI during this period. Some 5868 children were prescribed all three types of drug.

Some 46,993 (just over 14%) children became obese, of whom 9628 (11%) had not been prescribed any antibiotics or acid suppressants.

Boys, those born after a caesarean section, and those whose parents were below officer rank were more likely to become obese.

But after taking account of potentially influential factors, a prescription for antibiotics or acid suppressants was associated with a heightened risk of obesity by the age of 3 — the average age at which obesity was first identified in these children.

A prescription for antibiotics was associated with a 26 per cent heightened risk of obesity. This association persisted, irrespective of antibiotic type, and strengthened with each additional class of antibiotic prescribed.

Acid suppressants were also associated with a heightened obesity risk, although to a lesser extent, and this association strengthened for each 30-day supply prescribed.

Although the largest study of its kind, it is nevertheless observational, and as such, can’t establish cause. And potentially influential information on how much the children’s mothers weighed, and whether they smoked or had other underlying conditions wasn’t available.

And the researchers emphasise that the links between the individual, the environment, and obesity are complex, highlighting the “current difficulty of drawing clear conclusions about the interplay between exposure history, gut microbiota and propensity to develop obesity.”

They add: “There is an important therapeutic role for microbiota-altering medications. The long term risks to health must be weighed against the short-term benefits.”

But they also point out that over prescription of both antibiotics and acid suppressants, including in young children, is “a significant problem.”

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New brain region that suppresses fear identified

A study conducted at Texas A&M University has identified a new area in the brain involved in inhibiting fear, a discovery that holds potential for clinical interventions in patients with psychiatric diseases such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The article was published in Nature Communications on Oct. 30.

Dr. Stephen Maren, University Distinguished Professor of psychological and brain sciences and Claude H. Everett, Jr. ’47 Chair of Liberal Arts at Texas A&M University, and his team have discovered that a small brain region in the thalamus called the nucleus reuniens plays a role in inhibiting fear in rats.

Prior to his discovery, the region was thought to act primarily as a pathway by which sensory information travels from the periphery of the brain to the cortex, the part responsible for performing complex thought.

“It’s interesting because we know that the prefrontal cortex plays an emotion regulation role, and so there has been a lot of interest in how it accomplishes that,” Maren said. “So this basic research, identifying this particular projection from the prefrontal cortex to the nucleus reuniens in the thalamus, points us to parts of the brain that are important for the inhibitory function of fear, which could be an avenue to new drugs, therapies and interventions for psychiatric disorders.”

Currently, most drugs that physicians use to treat psychiatric disorders are indiscriminate and target all neurons in the brain. However, behavioral therapies, such as extinction therapy for PTSD, during which patients undergo prolonged, repetitive exposure to their traumas in safe settings, are effective in diminishing fear, but patients often relapse.

In his Emotion and Memory Systems Laboratory at Texas A&M, Maren and his team exposed rats to tones paired initially with mild foot shocks to create the fear response. They then used an extinction procedure, exposing the rats to the tones repetitively for prolonged periods, to suppress the fear.

Using a pharmacological approach, Maren and his team inactivated the nucleus reuniens and found that rats were unable to suppress fear. They next used a targeted pharmacogenetic strategy to silence neurons selectively in the prefrontal cortex projecting to the reuniens. To do this, Maren and his team used engineered viruses carrying designer receptors exclusively activated by designer drugs (DREADDs). They found that inhibiting these inputs also prevented rats from suppressing fear.

By identifying the involvement of this specific circuit of the brain in fear inhibition, researchers can now pursue more targeted treatments for psychiatric disorders that work better and last longer.

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Apple Pencil 2 FAQ: All about iPad Pro's magnetic accessory for 2018 – CNET

The new Apple Pencil 2 has a magnetic personality.


Sarah Tew/CNET

For Apple, the Pencil is mightier than the index finger alone.

Along with a pair of new iPad Pros and a new MacBook Air ($900 at Walmart), Apple will unleash a second-generation version of the Apple Pencil, its accessory for the iPad Pro 2018.

The Apple Pencil is the tech giant’s pressure-sensitive tool for creative professionals, and can be used for precision drawing, writing, drafting, annotating and editing photos. It will no doubt draw comparisons to the styluses from competing tablets, including Google’s Pixelbook Pen for the Pixelbook Slate and Pixelbook Chromebook and Microsoft’s Surface Pen for the Surface Pro and Surface Laptop ($695 at Amazon).

What’s the deal with the second-generation Apple Pencil?

The second-gen Apple Pencil (henceforth known as Apple Pencil 2 or Apple Pencil 2018) improves on the first-generation model with an enhanced design and new tricks to tote it around more easily and increase your productivity.

How much does it cost?

The new Apple Pencil goes for $129 in the US. That’s up $30 from the $99 Apple Pencil first introduced in 2015.

Apple Pencil prices: 2015 and 2018

Apple Pencil 2015 Apple Pencil 2018
US $99 $129
UK £89 £119
AU AU$145 AU$199

When can I buy the Apple Pencil 2018?

You can preorder it now. It officially goes on sale Nov. 7.


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What’s the difference between the Apple Pencil 2015 and Apple Pencil 2018?

A slimmer, sleeker matte design, the Apple Pencil 2 automatically pairs with your iPad Pro ($567 at Amazon), waking it up with a tap. It also snaps on magnetically to the tablet, and charges wirelessly when it’s attached. (The original Apple Pencil paired awkwardly through a Lightning connector hidden beneath the devices’ end cap and didn’t easily travel alongside the iPad Pro unless you bought a special case with a dedicated holster.)

You can double-tap the sides to change the Pencil’s function. In the Notes app, double-tapping switches from a pencil to an eraser. What you do depends on which app you’re in.

iPad Pro 2018 apple penciliPad Pro 2018 apple pencil

The second-gen Apple Pencil attaches to the iPad Pro 2018 and charges magnetically.


Sarah Tew/CNET

As a bonus, Apple throws in a free engraving on the side when you order the Apple Pencil 2018.

Does the new Apple Pencil work with all iPads?

Sadly, it does not. The Apple Pencil 2 will only work with the 2018 iPad Pros. It is not backwards compatible with earlier models, or with the standard iPad for 2018. Apple still sells the original Apple Pencil to work with older iPad Pros.

Does the old Apple Pencil work with the 2018 iPads?

The Apple Pencil 2015 works with:

  • iPad Pro 12.9‑inch (first and second generations)
  • iPad Pro 10.5‑inch
  • iPad Pro 9.7‑inch
  • iPad 2018 (the sixth-generation, 9.7-inch $329 iPad introduced earlier this year)

It does not work with either size iPad Pro 2018.

iPad Pro 2018 apple penciliPad Pro 2018 apple pencil

Double-tap the pencil while writing to change its task.


Sarah Tew/CNET

Will the Apple Pencil 2 work with iPhones and Macs?

Sorry, no. The Apple Pencil for 2018 will only work with:

  • iPad Pro 2018 (11-inch)
  • iPad Pro 2018 (12.9-inch)

How does Apple Pencil 2’s wireless charging work?

iPad Pro 2018 apple penciliPad Pro 2018 apple pencil

Sorry, the new Apple Pencil won’t work with older iPads.


Sarah Tew/CNET

Glad you asked! The short answer is that the Apple Pencil 2018 charges the second you snap the flat edge on the new iPad Pro. Plus, when the tablet charges, the Apple Pencil charges, too.

The longer answer is that what Apple refers to as “magic” is most likely inductive charging, which uses an electromagnetic field to ferry power from the iPad Pro 2018 directly to the Apple Pencil. We’re confirming that with Apple.

What’s the deal with all those magnets?

Apple outfitted the iPad Pro 2018 with 102 magnets it, which connect it to the Apple Pencil 2 and Smart Folio Keyboard. That means you can affix the new Apple Pencil just about anywhere along the tablets’ edges.

New iPad Pros, new MacBooks and more: Everything Apple just announced.

The new iPad Pro: Everything we know so far.

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Apple gives the Mac Mini its first update in four years with a higher price tag – CNET

The 2014 Mac Mini’s connections (bottom) vs. the 2018 model’s (top). Gone are the SD card slot, two of the USB-A connections and audio input. In exchange we gain more Thunderbolt capacity and better venting.


Sarah Tew/CNET

After a several years of silence on the Mac Mini front, fans of Apple’s diminutive desktop computing slab had given up hope of ever getting a replacement. But in the 2018 models, Apple’s delivered a great upgrade, with only one possible drawback.

In addition to modernizing the connection options with USB-C/Thunderbolt ports, updating to HDMI 2.0 and offering a 10Gb Ethernet option, Apple fixed one of the big complaints about the 2014 model: soldered memory. Upgradable memory is back, and it takes two industry-standard DDR4 SO-DIMMs.

But like most Apple products, it’s not really end-user upgradable, requiring a trip to a service center. This undercuts one of the perks, namely being able to buy less expensive memory elsewhere. But if it’s going to be another four years until Apple updates the Mini again, then every little bit of upgradability helps.


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I had some time with the “cheap” entry-level model, equipped with an Intel Core i3-8100B, 8GB of RAM and a 128GB SSD. There isn’t much to say about how it feels to use it: It’s similar to the old model. It drove the Dell Ultrathin 27 S2719DC display via Thunderbolt without any unexpected issues, and produced HDR on the monitor through the HDMI. 

The B series of the Core processors are new low-profile, thermally capped versions of their desktop counterparts designed for embedded systems and mini PCs, which is how Apple managed to switch from the last generation’s mobile processors while keeping essentially the same design, and with no increase in fan noise. 

Though the price of entry has gone up from $500 to $800 (£400 to £800 or AU$620 to AU$1,249), much faster than the pace of inflation over the same period, it’s still not out of line. The comparable Windows configurations in a compact design — and there really aren’t many — are actually pretty expensive in comparison. Examples include the HP Z2 Mini G4 workstation (about $1,000 for an i3-8100, 8GB and 256GB SSD) or the HP EliteDesk 800 G4 (almost $1,300 for an i3-8100T, 8GB of RAM and 128GB SSD).

But it’s not really an inexpensive system, either. That $800 doesn’t include a keyboard, mouse, trackpad or monitor, so really you’re looking at about $1,000 just for that base configuration if you only spend about $110 on a monitor. The least expensive iMac ($1,779 at Amazon) is $1,100, though it’s a far less capable system.

Apple Mac Mini 2018

Price as reviewed $799, £799, AU$1,249
PC CPU 3.6GHz Intel Core i3-8100B
PC Memory 8GB DDR4 SDRAM 2,667MHz
Graphics 1535MB dedicated Intel UHD Graphics 630
Storage Apple 128GB SSD
Ports Four USB-C/Thunderbolt, two USB-A 3.1, one HDMI 2.0, audio out
Networking Gigabit Ethernet, AirPort Extreme
Operating system Apple MacOS Mojave 10.14

Performance of the base model is fine, about what you’d expect given the components, but in general I really recommend you skip the quad-core i3 and head for at least the hexacore i5, not just for the speed boost, but for the futureproofing. An increasing number of applications are taking advantage of more cores, and for premium systems quad core is over. While the Mac Mini is inexpensive for Apple, it’s still essentially premium — after all, you can configure it with up to $4,200 (£3,860, AU$6,660) worth of components.

Plus, the i3 operates at a fixed processor speed of 3.6GHz; it doesn’t incorporate Intel’s Turbo Boost technology, which holds it back.

We didn’t rebenchmark the 2014 Mac Mini for comparison, but Apple would have had to actively try to slow it down in order to deliver worse performance than those four-year-old components.

Bigger on the outside

So what’s the drawback? For many pros, it may be hamstrung by Intel’s integrated graphics processor. I’m not saying it needs a powerful gaming or rendering GPU. A Kaby Lake G CPU, for example, would be a nice alternative to the i3 simply to make the system low-end VR ready, to take some of the video decoding burden or to help reduce overhead in audio production. (With only four cores, that CPU may not match the performance of the i5 and i7 eighth-generation hexacore processors.)

Not all software supports the latter, but some notable digital audio editing software, such as Avid Pro Tools, at least take advantage to accelerate plug-ins. (I’ve included benchmark results for a couple of Kaby Lake G laptops to give you a sense of performance and speed.) But that also would require some internal redesign and — gasp! — maybe a few millimeters’ embiggening.

Apple really seems to be betting on external GPUs as a solution for much of its graphics woes. But one of the benefits of the Mini is that it’s mini. Having to make space for a big eGPU just for better-than-basic graphics acceleration kind of defeats the purpose of a tiny system, especially when you’re likely going to be hanging a multitude of external drives and other accessories off it as well. (And with that in mind, a couple of ports on the front would be nice.)

We’ll be back with a final review once we’ve finished all our testing, so stay tuned.

Geekbench 4 (multi-core)

HP Spectre x360 15 (2018)

Dell XPS 15 9575 2-in-1

Apple Mac Mini (2018)

Apple iMac (27-inch, 2017)

Note:

Longer bars indicate better performance

Cinebench R15 CPU (multi-core)

HP Spectre x360 15 (2018)

Dell XPS 15 9575 2-in-1

Apple iMac (27-inch, 2017)

Apple Mac Mini (2018)

Note:

Longer bars indicate better performance

Cinebench R15 OpenGL (multi-core)

Dell XPS 15 9575 2-in-1

Apple iMac (27-inch, 2017)

HP Spectre x360 15 (2018)

Apple Mac Mini (2018)

Note:

Longer bars indicate better performance

System configurations

Dell XPS 15 9575 2-in-1 Microsoft Windows 10 Home (64-bit); 3.1GHz Intel Core i7-8705G; 16GB DDR4 SDRAM 2,400MHz; 4GB AMD Radeon RX Vega M GL Graphics; 512GB SSD
Apple iMac (27-inch, 2017) Apple MacOS Sierra 10.12.5; 3.4GHz Intel Core i5-7500U; 8GB 2400MHz DDR4 SDRAM; 4GB Radeon Pro 570; 1TB Fusion Drive Journaled HFS+
Apple Mac Mini (2018) Apple MacOS Mojave10.14 3.6GHz Intel Core i3-8100B; 8GB 2666MHz DDR4 SDRAM; 1536MB Intel UHD 630 integrated graphics; 128GB SSD
HP Spectre x360 15 (2018) Microsoft Windows 10 Home (64-bit); 3.1GHz Intel Core i7-8705G; 16GB DDR4 SDRAM 2,400MHz; 4GB AMD Radeon RX Vega M GL Graphics; 512GB SSD
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Lifespan and sexual maturity depends on your brain more than your body

New Vanderbilt research finds how long humans and other warm-blooded animals live — and when they reach sexual maturity — may have more to do with their brain than their body. More specifically, it is not animals with larger bodies or slower metabolic rates that live longer; it is animals with more neurons in the cerebral cortex, whatever the size of the body.

“Whether you’re looking at birds or primates or humans, the number of neurons that you find in the cortex of a species predicts around 75 percent of all of the variation in longevity across species,” said study author associate professor of psychology and biological sciences Suzana Herculano-Houzel.

Body size and metabolism, in comparison, to usual standards for comparing animals, only predicted between 20-30 percent of longevity depending on species, and left many inconsistencies, like birds that live ten times longer than mammals of same size.

Most importantly, humans were considered to be a “special” evolutionary oddity, with long childhood and postmenopausal periods. But this research, published in the Journal of Comparative Neurology, finds that’s not accurate. Humans take just as long to mature as expected of their number of cortical neurons — and live just as long as expected thereafter.

THE STUDY

In the study, Herculano-Houzel examined more than 700 warm-blooded animal species from the AnAge database which collects comprehensive longevity records. She then compared these records with her extensive data on the number of neurons in the brains of different species of animals.

Herculano-Houzel color-coded the data for hundreds of species and found that parrots and songbirds, including corvids, live systematically longer than primates of similar body mass, which in turn live longer than non-primate mammals of similar body mass.

“Likewise, for similar specific basal metabolic rates, parrots and songbirds live longer and take longer to reach sexual maturity than many mammalian species, especially non-primates,” said Herculano-Houzel.

She had seen that pattern before: her previous studies determining what brains are made of showed that parrots and songbirds have more cortical neurons than similar-sized primates, which have more cortical neurons than any other mammal of comparable body size.

Her new analysis confirmed her suspicion: that longevity increases uniformly across warm-blooded species together with the absolute number of neurons in the cerebral cortex.

“The more cortical neurons a species has, the longer it lives — doesn’t matter if it is a bird, a primate or some other mammal, how large it is, and how fast it burns energy,” says Herculano-Houzel.

ARE HUMANS UNIQUE? ASK GRANDMA

Anthropologists and researchers interested in evolution and human behavior have been working under the assumption that one of the ways the human species is unique is that humans have an uncommonly long childhood and adolescent period to allow for learning and social interactions. If larger animals live longer, then gorillas should live longer than humans — but they don’t: humans outlive them. One favored hypothesis is that being cared for by grandmothers could have led humans to delayed sexual maturity and increased postmenopausal longevity beyond the expected.

But Herculano-Houzel’s new data show that humans are not an exception from other mammalian species. Given the number of neurons in our cortex, humans take as long as they should to reach sexual maturity — and live just as long as expected for their number of neurons. Body size, it turns out, is irrelevant in matters of longevity.

“Now we can say that humans spend just as long in childhood and live exactly as long after reaching maturity as you would expect for the number of neurons in our cerebral cortex,” said Herculano-Houzel.

Which is longer, compared to other species — gorillas included -simply because humans have the most neurons in the cerebral cortex.

“It makes sense that the more neurons you have in the cortex, the longer it should take a species to reach that point where it’s not only physiologically mature, but also mentally capable of being independent,” says Herculano-Houzel. “The delay also gives those species with more cortical neurons more time to learn from experience, as they interact with the environment.”

And if longer lives also accompany more cortical neurons, those species will also enjoy a greater overlap between generations, and so more opportunities to pass along what they learned.

“Which means that grandma is still fundamental in the lives of those with plenty of cortical neurons; she’s just probably not the reason why our species is long-lived,” argues Herculano-Houzel.

FUNCTION OF THE CORTEX

What is the link between having more neurons in the cortex and living longer lives? Herculano-Houzel says that’s the new big question researchers need to tackle.

“The data suggest that warm-blooded species accumulate damages at the same rate as they age. But what curtails life are damages to the cerebral cortex, not the rest of the body; the more cortical neurons you have, the longer you will still have enough to keep your body functional,” she says.

Contrary to the rest of the body, which gets new cells that replenish old ones, cortical neurons are thought to have to last a lifetime.

While the cortex is usually associated with cognition, Herculano-Houzel believes a much more basic function of the cortex is key to longevity.

“The cortex is the part of your brain that is capable of making our behavior complex and flexible, yes, but that extends well beyond cognition and doing mental math and logic reasoning,” said Herculano-Houzel. “The cerebral cortex also gives your body adaptability, as it adjusts and learns how to react to stresses and predict them. That includes keeping your physiological functions running smoothly and making sure your heart rate, your respiratory rate, and your metabolism are on track with what you’re doing, with how you feel, and with what you expect to happen next. And that, apparently, is a key factor that impacts longevity,” she adds.

BRAIN SOUP

Herculano-Houzel pioneered the method for rapidly and accurately measuring the number of neurons in brains. She creates “brain soup” by taking brain tissue and breaking down the cells, then applying fluorescent tags to the nuclei floating in the “brain soup” and counting them.

In collaboration with Vanderbilt Distinguished Professor of Psychology Jon Kaas, she studied how many neurons compose different primate brains, including great apes. With colleagues in Brazil, she produced the first accurate count of the number of neurons in the human brain — an average 86 billion, which makes it simply an enlarged primate brain.

TAKE CARE OF YOUR BRAIN!

Aging starts once humans and other species reach adolescence, and there’s no way to gain back neurons. In fact, research shows humans can lose neurons in the prefrontal cortex. So Herculano-Houzel says taking good care of your mind, and keeping those cortical neurons healthy and busy, is the best bet to live long and well.

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Potential flaw in our assumptions about unknown opinions of others

In our decisions about whether to invest in a certain company, buy tickets to a movie or vote for a political candidate, we are often influenced by what others think. But how exactly do we figure out what others think?

In reality, most people make assumptions about general opinions from a fairly limited number of sources. To better understand this process of predicting opinions, researchers studied how participants responded to two different scenarios. In one scenario, participants viewed a scene in which four people at a restaurant all tried a new brand of bottled water. While waiting for their food, two people got up to wash their hands. The remaining two had a conversation about whether they liked the bottled water or not. The participants themselves were also told they had tried the water before and had either liked or disliked it.

In this scenario, the researchers discovered a pattern in participants’ predictions about the unknown opinions: They assumed the people not present in the conversation — who went to wash their hands — would agree with the majority opinion among the speakers. If the two speakers liked the water, they assumed those not present would like it as well regardless of the participants’ own opinion about the water.

In the second scenario, all four people stayed at the table and had a conversation about the bottled water, but rather than getting up from the table, the two people with unknown opinions remained and were silent in the conversation. The study respondents again were assigned a personal opinion of the new bottled water.

The researchers now found that rather than assuming that the people with unknown opinions agreed with the majority opinion, the respondents in this scenario predicted that the silent people agreed with their own opinion. This happened even when the participants’ own opinion was outnumbered in the group. If both speakers in the conversation liked the water but the study respondent didn’t personally like the water, the respondent assumed that the silent people did not like the water as well.

There are multiple reasons people may be silent — to avoid repeating a majority opinion, for example, or to avoid potential conflict caused by offering a differing opinion.

The new research showed that people generally assume others are silent for the same reasons they would have remained silent in the same situation. The study authors called this a mirror effect. This could explain their overall finding — that people generally assume silent members of a group would agree with their own personal beliefs.

“Even though the opinions in both study scenarios were equally unknown, people drew markedly different inferences about how those with unknown opinions felt about the topic based on whether they were actively silent or simply absent from the conversation,” says lead author Kimberlee Weaver Livnat, PhD, a marketing professor at the University of Haifa in Israel.

The findings have implications for leaders who are trying to make decisions based on group opinions. Leaders should be aware that they may interpret silence as agreement with their own viewpoint, but this may not be accurate, Weaver Livnat says. Similarly, quiet members of a group should be aware that their silence may not be accurately interpreted.

The results also have implications for how people draw conclusions about controversial topics. People are often strongly influenced by the opinions of others, and this is especially true when they are faced with complicated questions, says Weaver Livnat. These questions may include: How concerning is the risk of a pandemic? Is increased automation a wonderful step for progress or a step toward a scary future? Is cryptocurrency a savvy investment opportunity or a waste of money?

“Our answers to these types of questions depend in part on how we think others think about them,” Weaver Livnat says. “But we need to examine how we decide what others think.”

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Materials provided by Society for Consumer Psychology. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.