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Alt-week 6.1.13: cloning a mammoth, psychic robots and making music with your mind


Alt-week takes a look at the best science and alternative tech stories from the last seven days.

We've not had a week quite as exciting as this in... well, weeks! Not only has a team of paleontologists discovered mammoth remains with liquid blood, there's good news for future generations who'd rather put their feet up (while hiding from mammoths, we assume). This is alt-week.

The idea of a robot watching our every move, trying to predict what we're going to do next, might sound a little spooky at first. Until you think of the advantages. Dinner on the table moments after you get back from work? What about having the dishes cleared and cleaned just as you finish? Doesn't sound so bad now, huh, and thanks to work at Cornell University, it's one step closer to being a reality. The psychic bot uses a Kinect to see what you are up to, and references a database containing video of 120 household tasks to predict what you might do next. The team behind it claims it can guess with an impressive level of success. More encouragingly, the code that provides the foresight will be made open source, making it available to any curious developer that fancies creating a back-scratching buddy, or a pseudo-conscious vacuum cleaner. Or, of course, a beer-fetching robot that needs no pesky instruction.

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The Novosibirsk Islands are located just off the north-east coast of Siberia, and the location of a curious discovery -- a Woolly mammoth, complete with liquid blood. As if that's not mind-blowing enough already, there are already plans to use the samples to bring the species back to life through cloning. The frozen remains are estimated to be about 10,000 years old, but specific, favorable conditions at the site caused the blood and some muscle tissue to be unusually well-preserved. The discovery is being hailed as "The best preserved mammoth in the history of palaeontology" by Semyon Grigoriev, head of the Museum of Mammoths of the Institute of Applied Ecology of the North at the North Eastern Federal University. The rest of the carcass has been moved to an ice tomb for further investigation at a later date. South Korean scientist Hwang Woo-suk's bioengineering lab has confirmed it has plans to try to revive the extinct species, using a female Indian Elephant as a surrogate host.

Ever had a moment when a tune pops out of nowhere, and into your head? Usually while you're far from a computer or recording device? Then the Mindtunes project from Smirnoff and UK electronic-musician DJ Fresh should certainly appeal. Using EEG technology and Brain-Computer Interfaces, Mindtunes allowed three disabled musicians to create a dance track using only their -- you guessed it -- minds. Essentially, by converting emotions into brainwaves, which the team then fed into music software to create sound. A different system was developed for each of the musicians (for drums, synth and so on), with facial recognition elements adding another layer of control. Likewise, audio filters connected to relaxation levels meant the group could make sweeping risers and edits for added effect. The end result? A complete song entirely composed by the trio and their brains. The Mindtunes track is available on iTunes, with all proceeds going to the Queen Elizabeth Foundation to help develop an assistive technology group home. The takeaway message? You have a mind, you can create.

[Image credit: Semyon Grigoriev]

Seen any other far-out articles that you'd like considered for Alt-week? Working on a project or research that's too cool to keep to yourself? Drop us a line at alt [at] engadget [dot] com.

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