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In(mate)genuity: Behind the Hidden Computers in an American Prison

In(mate)genuity: Behind the Hidden Computers in an American Prison

Showing the kind of get-up-and-go that may have, um, helped them in their previous careers, a group of inmates at the Marion Correctional Institution in Columbus, Ohio, constructed two working wires leading to computerscomputers out of spare parts and hid them in a ceiling in their facility. They were discovered in the summer of 2015, when IT at the facility detected an unexplained upswing in internet usage, which led to an employee login that was suspiciously in use when that employee was off work. Now, the state is investigating how in god’s green earth this could possibly have happened.
 
It turns out the inmates were smuggling parts from a computer-building program the prison was running, and security was loose enough not to catch them. The inmates also smuggled enough cables to connect their resulting Franken-puters to the state network. Through this setup, they were able to steal the identity of another inmate and commit tax fraud, and spoof a security clearance to access secure areas in their own facility.
 
“‘It surprised me that the inmates had the ability to not only connect these computers to the state’s network but had the ability to build these computers,’ Ohio Inspector General Randall J. Meyer said. ‘They were able to travel through the institution more than 1,100 feet without being checked by security through several check points, and not a single corrections staff member stopped them from transporting these computers into the administrative portion of the building. It’s almost if it’s an episode of Hogan’s Heroes.’”
 
Thankfully, investigators have determined this to be a failure of security protocols, and not a sign that these sorts of skill building workshops need to be spiked. The rehabilitative value of these workshops will be preserved. Meanwhile, the investigators have issued an interesting recommendation: that the U.S. corrections department run checks on their networks for strangeness, rather than relying on fallible humans to twig to what’s wrong!

A Tale of Intelligence: A New Test for Animal Self-Awareness Smarts

From one account of bias to another: This week we look at a new experiment that may redefine animal intelligence on their terms, not ours – opening up a whole new way of looking at the interesting animals with whom we share our planet!

The study (recently published in Scientific Reports) has shown that elephants show body awareness; that is, they recognize when own physical selves get in the way of a task. This form of intelligence is one that human scientists have not previously prioritized testing for. The gold standaintelligence showsrd of intelligence tests has long been the Mirror Self-Recognition Test, in which a subject is required to look at themselves in a mirror and demonstrate that they know the reflection is actually them. This test is biased in two ways: towards species that are visually oriented in their information processing; and towards humans in particular, for whom mirror recognition is a natural developmental milestone that kicks in at around 18 months old.

Elephants are among the few species other than us that pass the MSR test. Jumping off from that recognized intelligence baseline, the experimenters (out of the University of Cambridge) devised a more animal-friendly alternative test and had the elephants attempt it.

“ […T]he researchers attached a stick to a rubber mat with a rope. Elephants were required to walk on top of the mat, pick up the stick and pass it to a person standing in front of them. But as the elephant quickly discovers, the stick can’t be lifted all the way because it’s standing on top of the mat. In order to be able to hand the stick over, the elephant must step off the mat and try again.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, elephants excelled at this task. In tests involving 12 elephants, the animals successfully completed the task nearly 90 percent of the time. This suggests that elephants are capable of recognizing themselves as being separate from objects or their environment, and they appear to have a level of self-understanding—intertwined with their ability to pass the mirror test—that’s quite rare among animals.”

While the sample size is pretty small, the researchers are enthused at these early results. They also consider them a call to arms for other scientists: to continue to develop tests to identify different kinds of intelligence in animals, and not just intelligence that humans recognize as being like our own.

New Research Points to Tetris as Balm for Trauma

tetris

Good news for gamers! Swedish and British researchers working out of Stockholm’s Karolinska Institute are looking at something a little unusual right now — the health benefits of sitting on your duff and playing a video game — specifically, the perennial classic, Tetris.
 
The benefits seem to be to mental health, and involve counteracting the intrusive, painful memories that can occur as a result of trauma. The small study the researchers set up (recently published in Nature) involved patients admitted to a UK hospital in the immediate aftermath of a car accident. While in the emergency room waiting to be checked out, participants were invited to either play twenty minutes of Tetris, or complete an activity log of everything that happened to them since they entered the hospital (this was the control group).
 
The researchers found that, in the first week after their accidents, the patients who played Tetris had 62% fewer bad memories than the patients who did the log — and, the memories faded more quickly for them than for their unlucky, paper-pushing counterparts.
 
The researchers are keen to set up a more comprehensive study, because this one points to an interesting function of the disruption of memory. Literally playing Tetris could theoretically be an early therapy for post-traumatic and acute stress disorders because its action can get in the way of a patient’s brain consolidating memories immediately after a terrible event.
 
“Traumatic memories are often highly sensory: Sights and sounds of a trauma can flash back in horrifying detail. [Psychology professor and study lead author Emily] Holmes believes that any highly visual activity that stimulates the brain’s sensory centers might prevent graphic recollections from forming in the first place. The colors, shapes and constant movement of Tetris may do just that, but based on Holmes’ past research, activities like digital pub quizzes and counting exercises do not. She plans to study other visually engaging interventions like drawing and the video game Candy Crush in the near future.”
 
Even though I have one, and I witness the world through its frame every day, I’m often taken aback by how startlingly complex in all its aspects the human brain really is. And I find it quite fitting that something as simple as an addictive little video game can interrupt a spiraling process, and jump start this important organ back to health! I’m looking forward to the continuing research into this therapy — who knows, really, when any of us might need it.