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The fossil of a bird-like dinosaur that lived around the same time as Archaeopteryx — considered by many palaeontologists to be the first bird — has been found in what is now southeastern China. Fujianvenator prodigiosus adds to mounting evidence that there were plenty of different birds living in the Late Jurassic period. Dinosaurs might have diversified into different kinds of bird to occupy different ecological niches, says palaeontologist Hailu You. Fujianvenator’s particularly elongated hindlimbs suggest that it was all about running or wading, instead of flying. “Early bird evolution is complicated,” says You.
Nature | 3 min read
Reference: Nature paper
Last week, a research team claimed to have found fragments of an interstellar meteorite on the sea floor. Finding debris from beyond our Solar System would be exciting because it might shed light on how planets and stars in other planetary systems form — but some say that the evidence that the material is truly interstellar is not convincing so far. Theoretical physicist Avi Loeb, who led the research, has become increasingly controversial in the astronomical community — he has argued that the interstellar object ‘Oumuamua might be an alien spacecraft and launched the Galileo Project, a privately funded programme to seek evidence of alien visits to Earth.
Nature | 4 min read
Read more: Why is Harvard University astrophysicist Avi Loeb working with ardent UFO believers? (Science | 11 min read, from 2022)
Reference: arXiv preprint (not peer reviewed)
A late-night deal means UK scientists can once more apply for money from the European Union’s flagship €95-billion (US$101-billion) Horizon Europe research-funding programme. UK researchers had been locked out of the scheme because of disagreements over a portion of the Brexit deal called the Northern Ireland protocol. “This news will be acclaimed with a rare level of consensus across the scientific community here and on mainland Europe,” says astrophysicist Martin Rees, the Astronomer Royal. “All have been frustrated by the unconscionable delay in reaching agreement.”
Nature | 3 min read
Features & opinion
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In August last year, scientists introduced 41 captive-bred western swamp tortoises (Pseudemydura umbrina) to a national park some 330 kilometres south of where the critically endangered tortoises are naturally found. It’s early days, but so far the youngsters are doing well. Such programmes are hotly debated — especially in Australia, which is no stranger to the downsides of introduced species. The results could influence whether conservation-though-relocation gains momentum. “It is a demonstration project for the world,” says herpetologist Nicki Mitchell.
Nature | 13 min read
More than 100 schools and public buildings in the United Kingdom are closed and at risk of collapse because of reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete (RAAC), which was used extensively throughout the country and in many others between the 1950s and 1990s. The material offers cheap, light, thermally insulating building blocks for construction. But if RAAC is infiltrated by water, not maintained properly or not replaced at the end of its life, it can fail catastrophically without warning. “The UK is pretty much the wettest place in Europe, so it’s not surprising that it got to us first,” says concrete-corrosion researcher Christian Stone. “But it’s only a matter of time before the rest of the world starts facing problems.”
Nature | 6 min read
OpenAI was founded in 2015 as a research organization spending entrepreneur Elon Musk’s money to build a powerful artificial intelligence (AI) that was smart enough to tackle any task — an artificial general intelligence — and safe for humanity. After falling out with Musk and extruding a for-profit arm to keep the lights on, the company burst into the public consciousness with ChatGPT. The chatbot is part of a strategy, says co-founder Sam Altman, of acclimatizing the public to the seismic changes that are imminent because of AI. The strategy worked: world leaders have clamoured to learn from Altman about how to adapt to a world shaped by AI. But questions remain about whether OpenAI is still dedicated to making AI safe, and whether any level of risk would prompt the company to slow its meteoric rise. “At the beginning, the idea of OpenAI was that superintelligence is attainable,” says Ilya Sutskever, OpenAI’s chief scientist. “It is the endgame, the final purpose of the field of AI.”
Wired | 35 min read