BEST BUDDIES: Researchers at the University of Hertfordshire Science and Technology Research Institute (including Michael Walters, pictured here) found that outgoing people tend to favor robots with realistic facial features and humanlike voices, whereas shy people generally prefer mechanical-looking ones. Image: Courtesy of the University of Hertfordshire
Find your robot soul mate
What's your type of robot? The more humanoid model or that boxy little number that looks like it was thrown together from spare parts? Researchers at the University of Hertfordshire Science and Technology Research Institute in Hatfield, England, are studying human perceptions of robots in an attempt to gauge our comfort level with them. Their findings: extroverts tend to favor robots with realistic facial features and humanlike voices (sort of like a cross between the Terminator and 2001's HAL 9000), whereas shy people generally like the mechanical-looking ones, perhaps because they seem more impersonal and less likely to demand attention. "It seems that there are those who prefer an unobtrusive robot and then others who want a cheerier presence," says Hertfordshire PhD candidate Michael Walters, who worked on the project under the direction of Kerstin Dautenhahn, a professor of artificial intelligence. The real question is, however: What type of humans do robots prefer? (University of Hertfordshire Science and Technology Research Institute)
How to beat laptop encryption
Think all that data stored on your laptop is secure because it's encrypted? Beware: a group of Princeton University researchers recently figured out how to beat several high-profile encryption programs, including those shipped by Apple (Mac OS X FileVault) and Microsoft (Windows Vista's BitLocker) with the latest versions of their operating systems as well as the open-source Linux operating system's dm-crypt encryption program. The attacks, devised by Alex Halderman, a PhD candidate in Princeton's computer science department, and his colleagues are particularly effective against computers that are powered up but locked, such as laptops that are in "sleep" or hibernation mode. The strikes exploit the fact that information stored in a computer's temporary working memory, or RAM, can take up to a minute to clear when a computer is shut down (even longer when the memory chip is cooled). During this time, a computer thief can use software to copy this information (including the password that unlocks the encryption) and use it to log into the computer when it's turned back on—much like opening a door when the key is left in the lock. Bad news for those who take for granted the built-in security software that comes packaged with computers is adequate protection. (Princeton University Center for Information Technology Policy )
Antidepressants (still) only help the most depressed
A new analysis adds to the pile of evidence that antidepressant drugs are often no more effective than a placebo for anything but the most severe depression. Researchers reached their conclusion after reviewing all published and unpublished clinical trial data submitted to the Food and Drug Administration for regulatory approval of four new-generation antidepressants—fluoxetine (Prozac), venlafaxine (Effexor), nefazodone (Serzone) and paroxetine (Paxil). Before treatment, trial volunteers responded to a standardized series of questions to rate their degree of depression. Patients rated as moderately or severely depressed responded to medication and placebo similarly enough to be considered clinically indistinguishable. Those suffering from extreme depression did not respond any better to the drugs; instead they had less of a response to placebo. (PLoS Medicine).