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Illustration: Xinmei Liu

Six Months In

Intensive care has risen to the challenge of 2020. Here’s what has changed.

This story is part of “Six Months In,” a special weeklong Elemental series reflecting on where we’ve been, what we’ve learned, and what the future holds for the Covid-19 pandemic.

Matt Morgan, MD, an intensive care doctor at the University Hospital of Wales, in the United Kingdom, vividly remembers his first Covid-19 patient. It was a busy day at his hospital, and the patient was so ill upon arrival at the intensive care unit (ICU) that they needed life support almost immediately.

Back then, in late March, Morgan knew that Covid-19 had already caused havoc in Italy and begun spreading in the U.K. Morgan, who is also Wales’ lead for critical care research, had expected the disease would reach his hospital, but it was only when he and his team began treating patients infected with SARS-CoV-2 that they realized how serious Covid-19 can be. …

A.I. researchers are turning to neuroscience to build smarter, more powerful neural networks

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Engineered Arts prosthetic expert Mike Humphrey checks on Fred, a recently completed Mesmer robot that was built at the company’s headquarters in Penryn on May 9, 2018, in Cornwall, England. Photo: Matt Cardy/Stringer/Getty Images

In 1998, an engineer in Sony’s computer science lab in Japan filmed a lost-looking robot moving trepidatiously around an enclosure. The robot was tasked with two objectives: avoid obstacles and find objects in the pen. It was able to do so because of its ability to learn the contours of the enclosure and the locations of the sought-after objects.

But whenever the robot encountered an obstacle it didn’t expect, something interesting happened: Its cognitive processes momentarily became chaotic. The robot was grappling with new, unexpected data that didn’t match its predictions about the enclosure. …

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I’m yet to part with my lockdown locks.

It’s been a strange year so far, hasn’t it. Since at least late January, I had been aware of news stories about the new coronavirus then causing havoc in Wuhan. However, over the next month or so I largely stuck to pitching stories on other topics that I had been researching previously, such as antimicrobial resistance and wildlife conservation.

By March, the pandemic (as we began calling it that month) had emerged as a gigantic problem for the whole world, not just China. …


Chris Baraniuk

Freelance science and technology journalist. Based in Northern Ireland.

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