It’s Time for a Conversation.


Picture of a group of spinner dolphins in the waters off Hawaii

Head trainer Teri Turner Bolton looks out at two young adult male dolphins, Hector and Han, whose beaks, or rostra, are poking above the water as they eagerly await a command. The bottlenose dolphins at the Roatán Institute for Marine Sciences (RIMS), a resort and research institution on an island off the coast of Honduras, are old pros at dolphin performance art. They’ve been trained to corkscrew through the air on command, skate backward across the surface of the water while standing upright on their tails, and wave their pectoral fins at the tourists who arrive several times a week on cruise ships.

But the scientists at RIMS are more interested in how the dolphins think than in what they can do. When given the hand signal to “innovate,” Hector and Han know to dip below the surface and blow a bubble, or vault out of the water, or dive down to the ocean floor, or perform any of the dozen or so other maneuvers in their repertoire—but not to repeat anything they’ve already done during that session. Incredibly, they usually understand that they’re supposed to keep trying some new behavior each session.

Bolton presses her palms together over her head, the signal to innovate, and then puts her fists together, the sign for “tandem.” With those two gestures, she has instructed the dolphins to show her a behavior she hasn’t seen during this session and to do it in unison.

Hector and Han disappear beneath the surface. With them is a comparative psychologist named Stan Kuczaj, wearing a wet suit and snorkel gear and carrying a large underwater video camera with hydrophones. He records several seconds of audible chirping between Hector and Han, then his camera captures them both slowly rolling over in unison and flapping their tails three times simultaneously.

Above the surface Bolton presses her thumbs and middle fingers together, telling the dolphins to keep up this cooperative innovation. And they do. The 400-pound animals sink down, exchange a few more high-pitched whistles, and then simultaneously blow bubbles together. Then they pirouette side by side. Then they tail walk. After eight nearly perfectly synchronized sequences, the session ends.

There are two possible explanations of this remarkable behavior. Either one dolphin is mimicking the other so quickly and precisely that the apparent coordination is only an illusion. Or it’s not an illusion at all: When they whistle back and forth beneath the surface, they’re literally discussing a plan.

Graphic showing brain evolution in dolphins and humans

When a chimpanzee gazes at a piece of fruit or a silverback gorilla beats his chest to warn off an approaching male, it’s hard not to see a bit of ourselves in those behaviors and even to imagine what the animals might be thinking. We are, after all, great apes like them, and their intelligence often feels like a diminished—or at least a familiar—version of our own. But dolphins are something truly different. They “see” with sonar and do so with such phenomenal precision that they can tell from a hundred feet away whether an object is made of metal, plastic, or wood. They can even eavesdrop on the echolocating clicks of other dolphins to figure out what they’re looking at. Unlike primates, they don’t breathe automatically, and they seem to sleep with only half their brains resting at a time. Their eyes operate independently of each other. They’re a kind of alien intelligence sharing our planet—watching them may be the closest we’ll come to encountering ET.

Dolphins are extraordinarily garrulous. Not only do they whistle and click, but they also emit loud broadband packets of sound called burst pulses to discipline their young and chase away sharks. Scientists listening to all these sounds have long wondered what, if anything, they might mean. Surely such a large-brained, highly social creature wouldn’t waste all that energy babbling beneath the waves unless the vocalizations contained some sort of meaningful content. And yet despite a half century of study, nobody can say what the fundamental units of dolphin vocalization are or how those units get assembled.

“If we can find a pattern connecting vocalization to behavior, it’ll be a huge deal,” says Kuczaj, 64, who has published more scientific articles on dolphin cognition than almost anyone else in the field. He believes that his work with the synchronized dolphins at RIMS may prove to be a Rosetta stone that unlocks dolphin communication, though he adds, “The sophistication of dolphins that makes them so interesting also makes them really difficult to study.”

Yet virtually no evidence supports the existence of anything resembling a dolphin language, and some scientists express exasperation at the continued quixotic search. “There is also no evidence that dolphins cannot time travel, cannot bend spoons with their minds, and cannot shoot lasers out of their blowholes,” writes Justin Gregg, author of Are Dolphins Really Smart? The Mammal Behind the Myth. “The ever-present scientific caveat that ‘there is much we do not know’ has allowed dolphinese proponents to slip the idea of dolphin language in the back door.”

Graphic showing hearing ranges for various mammals

But where Gregg sees a half century of failure, Kuczaj and other prominent researchers see a preponderance of circumstantial evidence that leads them to believe that the problem simply hasn’t yet been looked at in the right way, with the right set of tools. It’s only within the past decade or so that high-frequency underwater audio recorders, like the one Kuczaj uses, have been able to capture the full spectrum of dolphin sounds, and only during the past couple of years that new data-mining algorithms have made possible a meaningful analysis of those recordings. Ultimately dolphin vocalization is either one of the greatest unsolved mysteries of science or one of its greatest blind alleys.

Until our upstart genus surpassed them, dolphins were probably the largest brained, and presumably the most intelligent, creatures on the planet. Pound for pound, relative to body size, their brains are still among the largest in the animal kingdom—and larger than those of chimpanzees. The last common ancestor of humans and chimps lived some six million years ago. By comparison cetaceans such as dolphins split off from the rest of the mammal lineage about 55 million years ago, and they and primates haven’t shared an ancestor for 95 million years.

This means that primates and cetaceans have been on two different evolutionary trajectories for a very long time, and the result is not only two different body types but also two different kinds of brains. Primates, for example, have large frontal lobes, which are responsible for executive decision-making and planning. Dolphins don’t have much in the way of frontal lobes, but they still have an impressive flair for solving problems and, apparently, a capacity to plan for the future. We primates process visual information in the back of our brains and language and auditory information in the temporal lobes, located on the brain’s flanks. Dolphins process visual and auditory information in different parts of the neocortex, and the paths that information takes to get into and out of the cortex are markedly different. Dolphins also have an extremely well developed and defined paralimbic system for processing emotions. One hypothesis is that it may be essential to the intimate social and emotional bonds that exist within dolphin communities.

“A dolphin alone is not really a dolphin,” says Lori Marino, a biopsychologist and executive director of the Kimmela Center for Animal Advocacy. “Being a dolphin means being embedded in a complex social network. Even more so than with humans.”

When dolphins are in trouble, they display a degree of cohesiveness rarely seen in other animal groups. If one becomes sick and heads toward shallow water, the entire group will sometimes follow, which can lead to mass strandings. It’s as if they have a singular focus on the stranded dolphin, Marino says, “and the only way to break that concentration may be to give them something equally strong to pull them away.” A mass stranding in Australia in 2013 was averted only when humans intervened, capturing a juvenile of the group and taking her out to the open ocean; her distress calls drew the group back to sea.

Why did dolphins, of all the creatures roaming land and sea, acquire such large brains? To answer that question, we must look at the fossil record. About 34 million years ago the ancestors of modern dolphins were large creatures with wolflike teeth. Around that time, it’s theorized, a period of significant oceanic cooling shifted food supplies and created a new ecological niche, which offered dolphins opportunities and changed how they hunted. Their brains became larger, and their terrifying teeth gave way to the smaller, peglike teeth that dolphins have today. Changes to inner-ear bones suggest that this period also marked the beginnings of echolocation, as some dolphins likely changed from solitary hunters of large fish to collective hunters of schools of smaller fish. Dolphins became more communicative, more social—and probably more intelligent.

Richard Connor, who studies the social lives of dolphins in Shark Bay, Australia, has identified three levels of alliances within their large, open social network. Males tend to form pairs and trios that aggressively court females and then keep those females under close guard. Some of these pairs and trios are remarkably stable relationships that can last for decades. Males are also members of larger teams of 4 to 14, which Connor dubs second-order alliances. These teams come together to steal females from other groups and defend their own females against attacks, and they can remain intact for 16 years. Connor has observed even larger, third-order alliances that coalesce when there are big battles between second-order alliances.

Two dolphins can be friends one day and foes the next, depending on which other dolphins are nearby. Primates tend to have a “you’re either with us or against us” mentality when it comes to making distinctions within and between groups. But for dolphins, alliances seem to be situational and extremely complicated. The need to keep track of all those relationships may help explain why dolphins possess such large brains.

Dolphins are also among the most cosmopolitan animals on the planet. Like humans on land, dolphin species are seemingly everywhere in the sea, and like humans, they have proved ingenious at discovering feeding strategies that are particular to the environments they inhabit. In Shark Bay some bottlenose dolphins detach sponges from the seafloor and place them on their beaks for protection while searching the sand for small hidden fish—a kind of primitive tool use. In the shallow waters of Florida Bay dolphins use their speed, which can exceed 20 miles an hour, to swim quick circles around schools of mullet fish, stirring up curtains of mud that force the fish to leap out of the water into the dolphins’ waiting mouths. Dusky dolphins off the coast of Patagonia herd schools of anchovies into neat spheres and then take turns gulping them down.

All these behaviors have the mark of intelligence. But what is intelligence really? When pressed, we often have to admit that we’re measuring how similar a species is to us. Kuczaj thinks that’s a mistake. “The question is not how smart are dolphins, but how are dolphins smart?”

There are people who go on spiritual retreats to commune with dolphins, women who choose to give birth in the presence of dolphins, and centers that claim to use the powers of dolphin energy to treat the sick. “There are probably more weird ideas about dolphins swimming in cyberspace than there are dolphins swimming in the ocean,” writes Gregg. Many of those weird ideas can be traced back to a single man, named John Lilly.

Lilly was an iconoclastic neurophysiologist at the U.S. National Institute of Mental Health who began studying dolphins in the 1950s. In best-selling books like Man and Dolphin: Adventures on a New Scientific Frontier and The Mind of the Dolphin: A Nonhuman Intelligence, he was the first scientist to posit that these “humans of the sea” had a language. Almost single-handedly, writes Gregg, he “managed to transform what was initially regarded as an odd air-breathing fish at the turn of the 20th century into an animal whose intelligence is so sophisticated that it deserves the same constitutional protection as you or me.”

With grants from major scientific funding bodies, Lilly opened a dolphin research facility in the U.S. Virgin Islands, where attempts were made to teach a dolphin named Peter to speak English. As the 1960s dawned, Lilly’s experiments grew more and more unconventional—at one point he injected dolphins with LSD—and his funding began to dry up. He wandered off into the weirdest corners of the counterculture and carried with him the credibility of the field he’d helped create. Dolphin “language” would become an untouchable subject until 1970, when a University of Hawaii psychologist named Louis Herman founded the Kewalo Basin Marine Mammal Laboratory in Honolulu.

“We wanted to educate them to reveal their cognitive potential,” says Adam Pack of the University of Hawaii at Hilo, who worked at the lab for 21 years. “We reared the dolphins as you would a child.”

At Kewalo Basin two captive bottlenose dolphins, Phoenix and Akeakamai, were raised in an environment of constant education and schooled in an artificial language. Both were taught to associate either sounds or hand signs with objects, actions, and modifiers.

But Phoenix was taught an acoustic language in which words were placed in the order of the tasks to be performed. Akeakamai was taught a gestural language in which the order of the words was not the same as the order of the tasks. Though Phoenix could in theory respond word by word, Akeakamai could interpret her instructions only after she’d seen the entire sequence of gestures. Swimming in a pool filled with objects, the dolphins would carry out their instructions correctly more than 80 percent of the time.

After Akeakamai died in 2003 and Phoenix in 2004, their ashes were taken out to sea on surfboards and scattered, and the only research facility in the world dedicated solely to understanding how dolphins think went out of business. A big question remained: Why had Phoenix and Akeakamai found it so easy to learn the languages? Herman dismisses any notion that the researchers were piggybacking on some innate linguistic capacity. In his view, the imposed languages had allowed Phoenix and Akeakamai to express exceptional cognitive abilities common to all bottlenose dolphins—and perhaps other dolphin species—in a way that might never be exhibited in the wild. But is there some native form of dolphin communication that humans could eavesdrop on and eventually understand?

It turns out that there’s strong evidence to suggest that at least one kind of dolphin sound, studied extensively over the past decade, does function as a kind of referential symbol. Dolphins use distinct “signature whistles” to identify and call to one another. Each dolphin is thought to invent a unique name for itself as a calf and to keep it for life. Dolphins greet one another at sea by exchanging signature whistles and seem to remember the signature whistles of other dolphins for decades. Though other species, like vervet monkeys and prairie dogs, make sounds that refer to predators, no other animal, besides humans, is believed to have specific labels for individuals.

Signature whistles are only some of the vocalizations dolphins make underwater. What are the chances that they’re the only sounds in the dolphins’ repertoire that refer to something? How likely is it that dolphins have names only for each other and not for anything else in the sea?

A veritable Jane Goodall of the sea, Denise Herzing has spent the past three decades getting to know more than 300 individual Atlantic spotted dolphins spanning three generations. She works a 175-square-mile swath of ocean off the Bahamas, in the longest running underwater wild-dolphin program in the world. Because of its crystal clear waters, it’s a place where dolphin researchers can spend extended periods observing and interacting with wild animals.

Last summer I joined Herzing aboard her research boat, the R.V. Stenella, as she was preparing to run her first live trials with a complex new piece of machinery that she hopes will someday enable two-way communication between herself and the dolphins she has spent so long getting to know—and along the way illuminate how they communicate among themselves.

That piece of machinery is a shoebox-size cube of aluminum and clear plastic known as CHAT (cetacean hearing and telemetry), which Herzing wears underwater strapped to her chest. The 20-pound box has a small speaker and keyboard on its face and two hydrophones that look like eyes sticking out below. Inside, amid a tangle of wires and circuit boards sealed off from the corrosive effects of seawater, is a computer that can broadcast dolphins’ prerecorded signature whistles as well as dolphin-like whistles into the ocean at the push of a button and record any sounds that dolphins whistle back. If a dolphin repeats one of the dolphin-like whistles, the computer can convert the sound into words and then play them through a headset in Herzing’s ear.

Dolphins are notoriously talented mimics and quick students. Herzing’s goal is to get a handful of juvenile females she has known since birth to associate each of three whistle sounds broadcast by the CHAT box with a specific object: a scarf, a rope, and a piece of sargassum, a brown seaweed that wild dolphins use as a toy. Those three “words,” she hopes, will form the rudiments of a growing vocabulary of whistles shared by her and her dolphins—the beginnings of an artificial language in which she and they might someday be able to communicate.

“Once they get it—like Helen Keller getting language—we think it’s going to go very rapidly,” Herzing says. “Because they’re social, we’re capitalizing on other individuals watching. It’s like kids on a playground.”

Herzing, 58, is buoyant and optimistic, the kind of person for whom the word “visionary”—with its implications of both genius and kookiness—seems fitting. When she was 12 years old, she entered a scholarship contest that required her to answer the question “What would you do for the world if you could do one thing?” Her reply: “I would develop a human-animal translator so that we can understand other minds on the planet.”

In her underwater sessions, face-to-face with dolphins, sometimes for hours at a time, Herzing has recorded and logged thousands of hours of footage of every kind of dolphin behavior. She has also assembled a huge database of her loquacious subjects’ vocalizations.

Aboard the Stenella was another notable scientist, Thad Starner, a professor of computing at Georgia Tech. A pioneer of wearable computers, he’s also a technical lead at Google, where he works on Glass, the heads-up display that allows wearers to access the Internet as they go about their day.

Starner, 45, is boyish, with curly blond hair, wide eyes, and bushy sideburns. He wears Glass pretty much all the time and takes notes with a lemon-shaped keyboard that’s strapped to his left hand and fits in his palm. Starner’s lab team fabricated the CHAT box, and he’s come aboard the boat for ten days of technical testing and data collection.

If the mysteries of dolphin communication are ever to be cracked, it may have less to do with the two-way CHAT boxes than with the data-analysis tools Starner and his students have begun applying to Herzing’s dolphin recordings. They’re designing an algorithm that systematically searches through heaps of uncategorized data to find the fundamental units hiding inside. Feed in videos of people using sign language, and the algorithm pulls the meaningful gestures out of the jumble of hand movements. Feed in audio of people reading off phone numbers, and it figures out that there are 11 fundamental digits. (It’s not smart enough to realize that “zero” and“O” are the same number.) The algorithm uncovers recurring motifs that might not be obvious and that a human might not know how to look for.

As an early test of the algorithm, Herzing sent Starner a set of vocalizations she’d recorded underwater without telling him that he was listening to signature whistles sent between mothers and calves. The algorithm pulled five fundamental units from the data, which suggested that signature whistles were made up of individual components that were repeated and consistent between mothers and calves and that might be recombined in interesting ways.

“At some point we want to have a CHAT box with all the fundamental units of dolphin sound in it,” says Starner. “The box will translate whatever the system is hearing into a string of symbols and allow Denise to send back some string of fundamental units. Can we discover the fundamental units? Can we allow her to reproduce the fundamental units? Can we do it all on the fly? That’s the holy grail.”

When the opportunity finally arrives to test the CHAT box in the wild, it’s not just any dolphins that show up at the bow of the Stenella. The two dolphins that swim up to the boat are ones that Herzing has been hoping to encounter all week: Meridian and Nereide. Indeed, recordings of both dolphins’ signature whistles have been preprogrammed into the CHAT boxes in the hope that Herzing might get a chance to greet the dolphins and interact with them. It’s almost as if they’ve come to find us rather than the other way around.

Herzing has known most of her dolphins since birth, and she knows their mothers, aunts, and grandmothers as well. Many readers of this magazine know one of them too: Nereide’s mother, Nassau, appeared on the cover of National Geographic in September 1992, swimming beneath the surface of the same Bahamian waters.

These two females represent the best candidates for Herzing’s work. They haven’t yet become pregnant and are still just kids, with lots of curiosity and lots of freedom to play and explore. Sexual maturity in female Atlantic spotted dolphins arrives around age nine. Their life span can be more than 50 years.

When Herzing dives into the water and plays Meridian’s signature whistle for the first time, the dolphin turns and approaches, though without any outward sign of the surprise one might expect from a creature that’s just heard its name called by another species.

Herzing swims with her right arm stretched out in front of her, pointing at a red scarf she has pulled out of her swimsuit. She repeatedly presses the button for “scarf” on the CHAT box. It’s a rolling chirp that dips low and ends high, lasting about a second. One of the dolphins swims over, grabs the piece of fabric, and moves it back and forth from its rostrum to its pectoral fin. The scarf ends up hanging from the dolphin’s tail as she dives down to the bottom of the ocean.

I’m in the water with Herzing, trailing a few feet behind her with a graduate student who’s recording the encounter using an underwater camera. I keep waiting for one of the dolphins to take off with the scarf, but neither of them does. They seem to want to engage us, however tentatively. They pass the scarf back and forth, circle around us, disappear with it, and then offer it back to Herzing. She grabs it and tucks it back into her swimsuit and then pulls out a piece of seaweed. Nereide swoops down to grab it between her teeth and starts to swim off. Herzing takes off after her, pressing the CHAT box’s sargassum whistle again and again, as if desperately asking for it back. But the dolphins just ignore her.

“It’s not inconceivable that if the dolphins understand that we’re trying to use symbols, that they would try to show us something,” Herzing says later, back on board the Stenella. “Or imagine if they started using our word for sargassum amongst themselves.”

For now that still feels like a distant dream. The CHAT box never registers any mimicking during this hour-long encounter. “It’s all about exposure, exposure, exposure,” says Herzing. A tall order when you’re a human on a boat trying to link up with wild dolphins for a brief chat in a vast ocean.

“They’re curious. You can see them starting to put it together. I just keep waiting for them to trigger,” she says. “I keep waiting to hear a female voice in my headphones saying, ‘Scarf!’ You can almost see them calculating in their eyes, trying to work it out. If only they’d give me some acoustical feedback.”

The feedback may be there, just not in a form anyone can make sense of yet. Nereide had draped the sargassum over her tail as she floated casually through the water, finally shaking it off and then blowing a big, playful bubble.

After an hour in the water with us, the dolphins began to lose interest. As Nereide turned to leave, she made one final long, mysterious whistle, looked back at us, and then swam off into the blue darkness and disappeared.

‘Chemo brain’ is real, say researchers


      

University of British Columbia (UBC) research shows that chemotherapy can lead to excessive mind wandering and an inability to concentrate. Dubbed ‘chemo-brain,’ the negative cognitive effects of the cancer treatment have long been suspected, but the UBC study is the first to explain why patients have difficulty paying attention.

Breast cancer survivors were asked to complete a set of tasks while researchers in the Departments of Psychology and Physical Therapy monitored their brain activity. What they found is that the minds of people with chemo-brain lack the ability for sustained focused thought.

“A healthy brain spends some time wandering and some time engaged,” said Todd Handy, a professor of psychology at UBC. “We found that chemo brain is a chronically wandering brain, they’re essentially stuck in a shut out mode.”

Handy explains that healthy brains function in a cyclic way. People can focus on a task and be completely engaged for a few seconds and then will let their mind wander a bit.

The research team that included former PhD student Julia Kam, the first author of the study, found that chemo brains tend to stay in that disengaged state. To make matters worse, even when women thought they were focusing on a task, the measurements indicated that a large part of their brain was turned off and their mind was wandering.

The researchers also found evidence that these women were more focused on their inner world. When the women were not performing a task and simply asked to relax, their brain was more active compared to healthy women.

Kristin Campbell, an associate professor in the Department of Physical Therapy and leader of the research team, says these findings could help health care providers measure the effects of chemotherapy on the brain.

“Physicians now recognize that the effects of cancer treatment persist long after its over and these effects can really impact a person’s life,” said Campbell.

Tests developed for other cognitive disorders like brain injury or Alzheimer’s have proven ineffective for measuring chemo brain.  Cancer survivors tend to be able to complete these tests but then struggle to cope at work or in social situations because they find they are forgetful.

“These findings could offer a new way to test for chemo brain in patients and to monitor if they are getting better over time,” said Campbell, who also conducts research to measure how exercise can improve cognitive function for women experiencing chemo brain.

 

21 True Facts About ‘The Matrix’ That Will Blow Your Mind .


The Matrix is one of the most iconic movies released in the past 20 years. We may think we know everything there is to know about the sci-fi classic, but, like Neo, we haven’t even begun to learn all there is to know. Below are 21 facts you probably never knew about the movie:

1. The Wachowskis risked the film’s entire budget just to make it the way they wanted. 

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The original budget that the Wachowskis pitched Warner Bros. was over $80 million. Warner gave them $10 million, so they used all of it on the opening sequence with Trinity. The opening scene impressed executives at Warner so much when they showed it, they green-lit the original budget.

2. The film differentiates the Matrix and the real world through color.

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The scenes that take place within the Matrix are tinted green; those that happen in the real world have more of a normal coloring. The fight scene between Neo and Morpheus has a yellow tint, since it takes place in neither.

3. Keanu actually climbed out the window without a stuntman.

During the phone conversation between Neo and Morpheus within the MetaCortex offices, Morpheus instructs Neo to go through the window. Keanu did this himself without the aid of a stunt double, 34 stories in the air.

4. The helicopter scene almost caused the film to be shut down.

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They flew the chopper through restricted airspace in Sydney, Australia. Laws in New South Wales had to be changed in order to let The Matrix proceed with filming.

5. Which might explain why the Morpheus’ rescue took six months to prepare and plan.

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6. The Wachowskis worked on their vision for the movie for five and a half years.

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The final product, arrived after working through 14 screenplay drafts, took up 500 storyboards.

7. Morpheus, in Greek mythology, is the god of dreams.

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Which is ironic, since he’s the man who wakes people from their dream states and introduces them to reality.

8. Keanu Reeves only has 80 lines in the first 45 minutes of the film.

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Of those 80 lines, 44 are questions. That’s over his half his dialogue, and it amounts to about one question per minute.

9. All of the color blue was removed from the exterior shots.

The idea behind this was that it would make the outside world of the Matrix seem more grim.

10. Jean Baudrillard’s Simulacra and Simulation was required reading for all principal cast and crew.

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The book, which is about hyperreality and the imitation of real-world processes, can be found in Neo’s apartment as well. It, along with Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, Karl Marx, Franz Kafka, and Homer’s Odyssey, were all hugely influential on the film.

11. Will Smith was approached to play Neo.

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“Welcome to the real Will.” He turned it down to star in Wild Wild West instead. Good choice? Maybe not, but Smith has since admitted that it was for the best because he didn’t actually understand the script at the time.

12. Other actors considered to play Neo were Nicolas Cage, Tom Cruise, and Leonardo DiCaprio.

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Thankfully, Keanu won out. He’s really the only Neo we can imagine. #canttouchthis

13. “Neo” is an anagram for “one.”

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Which is fitting, really, since Neo is the One.

14. The opening sequence took six months of training to prepare for and four days to shoot.

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15. Carrie-Anne Moss (Trinity) twisted her ankle during filming, but kept it a secret.

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She was afraid that if she told someone, they would re-cast her, so she kept it hidden.

16. The glyphs on the screens consist of reversed letters, numbers, and Japanese katakana characters. 

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17. Given Neo’s choice, the Wachowskis have both said they would choose the blue pill.

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18. Gary Oldman and Samuel L. Jackson were both considered for the role of Morpheus.

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19. The film’s legacy began to show within 3 years of its release.

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By mid-2002, the Bullet Time sequence had been parodied in over 20 films.

20. When Carrie-Anne Moss saw the first cut, it was the first time she’d ever seen herself in a movie.

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21. Richard Walker, founder of sunglass company Blinde, competed against Ray-Ban and Arnette to design the glasses for the movie. 

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He personally designed custom sunglasses for each character based simply on their unique names in order to get the job. Once he got it, Walker was flown into Sydney to make custom glasses for the duration of filming.

Eye Color And Health.


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There’s more to eye color than meets the…eye. For one, contrary to what you may have learned in grade school, there’s more than a single gene involved, which is why your specific hazel hue can look so vastly different from your daughter’s, says Rachel Bishop, MD, chief of the consult service section of the National Eye Institute. Though as with skin pigmentation, she says, you’ll see eye color similarities among families and ethnicities (dark eyes are more prevalent in an African population than a Scandinavian one, for example).

What’s more, whether they’re brown, hazel, green, blue, gray, or somewhere in between, your eyes can tell you more about yourself than you might expect—and not just in “the eyes are the windows to the soul” kind of way. Your eye color could dictate your risk for certain diseases or even predict how your body handles booze. Read on to get clued in.

1. Dark-eyed people are more likely to have cataracts.
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A fogginess appearing over the pupil of the eye is a common sign of cataracts, a clouding of the vision common with aging. And people with dark eyes are at greater risk: A 2000 study published in the American Journal of Ophthalmology found that dark-eyed people had a 1.5 to 2.5 times greater risk of cataracts. Protecting your eyes from ultraviolet raysis one of the crucial steps of cataract prevention for anyone, but the researchers recommend dark-eyed sunbathers take particular caution. (Wearing sunnies and a hat with a brim is a good place to start!)

MORE: 10 Cancer Symptoms Most People Ignore

2. Vitiligo is less common among blue-eyed people.
A 2012 review of vitiligo research published in Nature found the autoimmune disease, which causes the loss of skin color in blotches, was less common in people with blue eyes. Of the nearly 3,000 vitiligo patients—who were all Caucasian—involved in the research, 27% had blue eyes, 30% had green or hazel eyes, and 43% had brown eyes, whereas the typical breakdown of eye color among Caucasians is 52% blue, 22% green or hazel, and 27% brown.

The researchers discovered that variations in two particular genes, TYR and OCA2, which play a role in blue eye color, also decrease risk for vitiligo, says study author Richard A. Spritz, MD, director of the genomics programs at the University of Colorado School of Medicine.

3. Melanoma is more common in people with blue eyes.
From a genetic standpoint, “melanoma and vitiligo look like they’re opposites,” Spritz says. “The same variations we saw as protective for vitiligo increased the risk for melanoma.” One theory as to why: vitiligo is an autoimmune disease, meaning our natural immune response mistakenly attacks our own bodies. Over-activity of that response could be what makes brown eyed people more susceptible to vitiligo—and what fights off melanoma, he says. The exact relationship is unknown, but the genes that protect against vitiligo, those that protect against melanoma, and those that simply dictate the amount and type of pigment you’re given all seem to be intertwined, he says.

4. People with dark eyes may be more sensitive to alcohol.

alcohol sensitivity
If your eyes are black or brown, you may drink less than your blue- or green-eyed friends, according to a 2001 study published in Personality and Individual Differences. The researchers found higher self-reported alcohol use among women with light eyes as well as more frequentalcohol abuse among a group of light-eyed prisoners who they studied. They hypothesized that dark-eyed folks may be more sensitive to alcohol and other drugs in general, which may lead them to drink less to achieve the desired effects.

5. Women with light eyes may better withstand pain.
In research presented at the American Pain Society’s 2014 annual meeting, anesthesiology professor Inna Belfer, MD, PhD, presented findings suggesting women with light eyes may have a higher tolerance for pain and discomfort. A small group of women were studied before and after giving birth, and those with darker eyes exhibited more anxiety and sleep disturbances in response to the pain of the experience. Dark-eyed women also experienced a greater reduction in pain after receiving an epidural, suggesting more sensitivity to pain, MedPage Today reported. Belfer told the Pittsburgh Post Gazette that the results were very preliminary, but could one day help doctors pinpoint a genetic cause of pain.

6. People with light eyes may be more likely to have age-related macular degeneration.
macular degeneration
One of the most common causes of vision loss after 50 is age-related macular degeneration or AMD, damage to a small part of the eye near the center of the retina that sharpens your eyesight. It can begin as blurriness and progress to spots that appear completely blank. Several small studies have suggested that, in addition to smoking and a family history of the disease, having light eyes also ups your risk for AMD, perhaps as much as twofold. However, most of these studies have been small, and some question the significance of the findings. AMD is more common among Caucasians, Bishop says, who are also more likely to have pale eyes, but she’s not familiar with any research supporting a causal link between the two. It could be an association, she says, such as how African Americans have a higher risk of glaucoma and a higher proportion of dark eyes, but the two may have nothing to do with each other, she says.

7. Changing eye color could be a sign something’s wrong. 

If you notice a reddening in the whites of your eyes, you might have undiagnosed allergies. If they turn yellow, you may have liver problems. If just one eye has recently changed color, it could be a sign of inherited diseases like neurofibromatosis, which causes nerve tissue tumors, or Waardenburg syndrome, which typically involves deafness and pale skin, or it could even signal melanoma of the iris, Bishop says.

If your eyes have always been two different colors, it’s probably nothing to worry about; there can be slightly different patterns of pigment assigned to each eye during development, Bishop says. But if you notice a recent change, you always want to rule out a problem.

Researchers ID brain mechanisms underlying alertness and attentiveness


Researchers at MIT’s Picower Institute for Learning and Memory have shown for the first time that a common neurotransmitter acts via a single type of neuron to enable the brain to process information more effectively. The study appears in the April 27 advance online edition of Nature Neuroscience.

A fundamental feature of the awake, alert is the release of the (ACh). By zeroing in on a specific cortical circuit driven by a single cell type, “this paper shows that a crucial function of ACh is to enhance information representation by acting principally on one class of inhibitory neuron in the cortex,” says co-author Mriganka Sur, the Newton Professor of Neuroscience and director of the MIT Simons Center for the Social Brain. “We have pinpointed the mechanism underlying a fundamental aspect of information representation in the brain.”

There are many scenarios in which being in sync is a good thing. The attentive brain, surprisingly, is not one of them.

Decorrelation—neurons firing in an unsynchronized manner—can enhance and even optimize information processing. In fact, conditions such as Parkinson’s disease and epilepsy are characterized by pathologically synchronized neurons.

The Picower study pinpoints, for the first time, a specific subtype of that contributes to decorrelation in a major brain circuit tied to attention and arousal.

The mechanisms underlying ACh-modulated brain functions are complex due to the sheer number of types of brain cells that ACh modulates, says former MIT graduate student Naiyan Chen, co-author of the paper. “Surprisingly, we found a single cell type is responsible for ACh-based information representation in the brain.”

This schematic shows the path of a critical neurotransmitter among several color-coded neuron types in a microcircuit within the brain. Credit: Sur Lab

This study, intended to shed light on at the circuit level, is “the first to demonstrate a crucial emerging principle of cortical circuits: that the diffuse release of ACh within the cortex, previously thought to contribute to nonspecific actions, actually leads to highly specific functions,” Sur explains. “Certain cells have receptors that are finely tuned to such transmitters, and these cells are in turn part of specific circuits.

“This enables neurotransmitter systems and cortical circuits to create very specific response transformations that underlie cognitive functions such as attention and brain states that accompany alertness and arousal,” he says.

Naiyan and research scientist Hiroki Sugihara demonstrated these circuits and their function in genetically modified mice by recording the actions of specific and activating and inactivating different neuron classes to deconstruct their roles.

Chen anticipates that these findings will motivate future research in other brain functions—such as learning and plasticity—modulated by the neurotransmitter acetylcholine. “An interesting next question is: Do different acetylcholine-modulated cell types mediate different brain functions?” she says.

Are You A Mosquito Magnet? Why Mosquitoes Bite Some People More Than Others And an Easy Way To Avoid Bites .


t’s summertime, and most of us spend time outdoors however that means that we share the possibility of getting a mosquito bite. Research shows that 1 in 5 people are targets for these blood suckers. Are you one of them?

admin-ajax (1)

There are 3000 species of mosquitoes, and an estimated 200 are found in the United States. They are all different, but they all can transfer disease.

It’s vital to take precautions to protect yourself from mosquito bites to save the trouble from the terrible itching that decrease your chances to catch diseases such as malaria, West Nile virus, dengue, yellow fever, and encephalitis.

The sad truth is that between 1 to 2 million people worldwide die every year from mosquito bites, the majority being from the malaria disease.
Scientists have found that most insects can detect special agents or chemicals that help defer them from biting. One special chemical is called DEET. It is improving to truly help stop mosquito biting. However, it does have harmful side effects that can cause a great health risk.

Mosquitoes can detect chemical compounds from roughly 50 yards away. The male mosquito does not come looking for blood however the females mosquitoes do they have a need for protein and iron in your blood, as this helps produce their eggs supply. They also can smell not only the chemical compounds, but body secretions and bacteria too.
Odds are the more you give off, the more you will be bitten. It is also true that the larger in body what you are, the more carbon dioxide you put off which makes you more appealing to the mosquitoes. How can we protect ourselves from them? Several ideas include tricking the mosquitoes into thinking that you stink!

If you’ve already been bitten then try using these natural and organic ways to treat the inflammation of a mosquito bite. These natural substances help soothe irritated skin and kill micro bacteria. They are:

Aloe Vera – this plant has over one hundred and thirty compounds that can seep into the skin including 34 amino acids. All of these are beneficial and also great for burns and minor cuts.

Calendula- It moisturizes rejuvenates and soothes.

Chamomile- the best term of all that helps with soothing. It is packed with bioflavonoids such as a pigeon, luteolin, and quercetin. These can be used in boiled tea for naturally in simply applied to the skin.

Cinnamon- For centuries it has been known for its fantastic smell and taste in cooking recipes however did you know that it has an antibacterial and anti-fungal properties as well?

Cucumbers- a great vegetable that helps in the reduction of swelling and puffiness.

Raw or Organic Honey – most honey is suggested, however, there is a specific top from New Zealand, called manuka honey that is made from bees that strictly feed upon flowers of the Manuka bushes also commonly known as the “tea tree.”

Lavender – just a cinnamon has a fantastic smell so does lavender. It is known for its calming and stress relieving sent but also great for mosquito bites as it has antimicrobial agents.

Neem Oil- when most older people think it helps protect you against antifungals such as ringworm, roundworm or Etc… however if it can help those then it may just help a common mosquito bite!

Basil- a great natural herb that will relieve itching. Try this by crushing up and apply directly to the bite.

Lemon and lime – Use this as a great way for limited and minimal outside mosquito repellent. Squeeze and apply directly.

Peppermint- Known for its fantastic Smell that also offers a cooling sensation for itching. You may apply this crushed in fresh or either from an essential oil.

Apple cider vinegar – you may cut down your risk of mosquitoes by simply adding this to your bath water and soaking for around 30 to 35 minutes. The acidity will help relieve itching, and the smell is great for a soothing and calming sensation

Baking soda- easily dissolvable in your bath water and soak for around 30 minutes.

Witch hazel- A mixture made out of hazel and baking soda. This can be applied directly to the bit to help with swelling.

And lastly, hot and cold therapies are very beneficial. A recent study published in the Scientific American Journal recommends using an ice pack the place on mosquito bites instead of analgesics. However, those that prefer heat therapy over cold therapy suggest applying heat to the spot to relieve the itchiness by applying a heated spoon under hot tap water for around a minute and a half to heat the metal. Then apply the heated spoon directly to the area, but be sure that it is not overheated to wear it would scald, hurt, or burn the person that encountered the mosquito bite.

Regardless of which way you decide to handle your mosquito bites please do bear in mind the necessity of it. With many people losing their lives due to mosquito-borne illnesses, this is no laughing or joking matter. Remember to dress wisely, keep the list of natural remedies on hand and use common sense when performing hot and cold therapies. We all want to enjoy the beautiful summer weather, and maybe you can now that you know these better ways to avoid mosquitoes!

Is Stevia Safe?


stevia
You got the memo: Sugar is a health disaster, and artificial sweeteners like Sweet N Low and Equal are just as bad. So how are clean eaters supposed to get their daily sweet fix?
Welcome to the quickly expanding, ever-mystifying world of “natural” low-calorie sweeteners, which, reportedly, have all the taste of sugar, without any of its detriments—or the chemicals of artificial brands. These newer, plant-based sweeteners—think stevia and monk fruit—are now showing up in nearly every type of packaged food and drink and even making an appearance in coffee shops where pink and blue packets once reigned supreme.

“Fabulous!” you say. Right? “But wait!” we reply. Are these sweeteners safe? Or will we find out in a few years, like we did with Splenda—once touted as “natural”—that they’re linked to heart disease, diabetes, and (say it ain’t so!) weight gain?

The good news is that things look pretty safe: Experts and regulatory agencies around the globe agree most low-cal natural sweeteners are perfectly fine in moderation (we say “in moderation” because, calorie-free or not, sweeteners still don’t qualify as health foods you should guzzle down all day long, says Monica Reinagel, LN, a Baltimore-based nutritionist). Plus, recent research has debunked scary claims of sweetener toxicity. Here, the skinny on three low-cal natural sweeteners:

Stevia
stevia plant
What it is: First, an important distinction: Stevia the plant is native to South America, where locals have used it as a natural sweetener for thousands of years. The plant’s leaves are 200 to 300 times sweeter than sugar but contain no carbohydrates or calories. Stevia the food additive is either stevioside or rebaudioside A, two highly refined, purified extracts of the stevia leaf.

What it’s in: Because stevia extracts are so intensely sweet, they need to be cut with other ingredients like sugar alcohols, dextrose (a mild sweetener made from corn), or cellulose powder (plant fibers that prevent clumping and add volume). That’s why you’ll see these additives in almost all common packaged stevia brands, including Truvia, PureVia, SweetLeaf, and Stevia In The Raw. The extracts are also found in a growing slew of packaged foods and beverages, like SoBe Lifewater,Bai5, and Lily’s chocolate.

How to spot it: An ingredients list that lists stevioside or rebaudioside A, the two stevia extracts approved for use in food. Some labels don’t disclose which of the two extracts you’re getting, just listing “purified stevia extract” instead.

Nutritional lowdown: Stevia is truly a zero-calorie sweetener, and it won’t raise blood sugar levels.

Drawbacks: Taste. Stevia can have a bitter, licorice aftertaste that many find off-putting. Luckily, that aftertaste is tempered by sugar alcohols, and food manufacturers are starting to use them in tandem.

Safety: Older animal studies show that high doses of stevia may be toxic to the kidneys and reproductive system, and could even mutate genes. That’s why the FDA doesn’t allow unrefined or whole-leaf stevia in foods, despite the fact that South Americans have consumed the plant for centuries. But newer data on stevioside and rebaudioside A—the purified extracts—does not show evidence of toxicity (though it’s worth noting that some of this research was funded by companies like Coca-Cola and Cargill, the maker of Truvia). In 2008, the FDA awarded its first Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) status to these extracts, which have been approved for use and sold in Europe, Canada, France, New Zealand, and Japan, where it’s been on the market for decades without any major safety issues. The WHO and UN’s Joint Expert Committee on Food Additives have also ruled them to be safe in moderation.

Sugar Alcohols

What they are: Sugar alcohols are naturally occurring compounds found in plants like corn and berries that are anywhere from 20% to 90% as sweet as real sugar. Today, most sugar alcohols are manufactured using chemical processes that alter the natural sugars in cornstarch, corncobs, cornhusks, sugar cane, or birch wood.

What they’re in: While you can buy sugar alcohols in bulk online or at health food stores, they’re mostly found in packaged products like sugar-free ice cream, salad dressings, protein bars, baked goods, and even Tom’s of Maine toothpaste. Sugar alcohols are especially ubiquitous in chewing gum (partly because they’ve been proven to reduce cavities and tooth decay).

How to spot them: Check the ingredients list for anything with the suffix –tol. Some of the most popular: xylitol, sorbitol, mannitol, and erythritol.

Nutritional lowdown: Our bodies can’t break down sugar alcohols as quickly and easily as they break down real sugar. But sugar alcohols still have calories and can raise your blood sugar—just  not nearly as much as the real thing. Sugar alcohols have anywhere from 1 to 3 calories per gram, while real sugar has 4.

Drawbacks: Since they’re frequently made from corn—and since corn is frequently genetically modified—it’s probably safe to assume that most sugar alcohols are derived from GMOs. Look for the Non-GMO Project seal if you’re trying to avoid them.

Safety: Sugar alcohols have been around for decades without safety problems. But some people do experience stomach discomfort or diarrhea after eating sugar alcohols. If they give you trouble, try sticking with only erythritol, which research shows is not fermented by gut bacteria, meaning it may cause fewer digestive woes.

Monk Fruit Extract

What it is: From the fruit of Siraitia grosvenorii, a plant native to China and Thailand, monk fruit has been used by the Chinese for centuries as a remedy for colds, sore throat, and congestion. It’s about 300 times sweeter than sugar.

What it’s in: You can buy it as a standalone sweetener under brand names like Monk Fruit In the Raw, or find it in packaged products likeArctic Zero and So Delicious frozen desserts or Zevia beverages.

How to spot it: Look for “monk fruit,” “lo han,” “mogroside,” “luo han guo,” or “Siraitia grosvenorii” on the ingredients list or packing.

Nutritional lowdown: On its own, the extract has no calories, but when it’s mixed with fillers like dextrose, the calorie count can climb a little. Each packet of Monk Fruit In the Raw, for example, has 3 calories. (FYI, Splenda also has 3 calories per packet, but is listed at 0, since FDA regulations allow calorie counts under 5 to be rounded down.)

Drawbacks: Though it’s been used for centuries in Chinese medicine, it’s still relatively new to the packaged food world, and there hasn’t been much long-term, controlled study of monk fruit in humans.

Safety: So far, there are no safety concerns associated with monk fruit as a sweetener. Since 2010, the FDA has granted GRAS status to monk fruit and animal studies show no adverse effects.

Photovoltaic retinal implant could restore functional sight, researchers say


A team led by Stanford University researchers has developed a wireless retinal implant that they say could restore vision five times better than existing devices.

Results in rat studies suggest it could provide functional vision to patients with , such as or .

A paper describing the implant was published online April 27 in Nature Medicine.

“The performance we’re observing at the moment is very encouraging,” said Georges Goetz, a lead author of the paper and graduate student in electrical engineering at Stanford. “Based on our current results, we hope that human recipients of this implant will be able to recognize objects and move about.”

Retinal degenerative diseases destroy photoreceptors—the retina’s rods and cones—but other parts of the eye usually remain healthy. The implant capitalizes on the electrical excitability of known as bipolar cells. These cells process the photoreceptors’ inputs before they reach ganglion cells, which send retinal signals to the brain. By stimulating bipolar cells, the implant takes advantage of important natural properties of the retinal neural network, which produces more refined images than the devices that skip these cells.

Made of silicon, the implant is composed of hexagonal photovoltaic pixels that convert light transmitted from special glasses worn by the recipient into electrical current. These electrical pulses then stimulate the retina’s , triggering a neural cascade that reaches the brain.

Clinical trial planned

So far, the team has tested the device only in animals, but a clinical trial is planned next year in France, in collaboration with a French company called Pixium Vision, said Daniel Palanker, PhD, professor of ophthalmology and a senior author of the paper. Initially, patients blinded by a genetic disease called retinitis pigmentosa will be included in the study.

Existing retinal prostheses are powered by extraocular devices wired to the retinal electrode array, which require complex surgeries, and provide visual acuity up to about 20/1,200. This new photovoltaic implant could be a big improvement because its small size, modularity and lack of wires enable a minimally invasive surgery. Vision tests in rats have shown it restores to an equivalent of 20/250.

Next, Palanker and his team plan to further improve acuity by developing chips with smaller pixels. To ensure the signals reach the target neurons, they plan to add a tiny prong to each electrode that will protrude into the target cell layer.

“Eventually, we hope this technology will restore vision of 20/120,” Palanker said. “And if it works that well, it will become relevant to patients with .”

Quake moves Kathmandu but Everest height unchanged


The earthquake that devastated Nepal and left thousands of people dead shifted the earth beneath Kathmandu by up to several metres south, but the height of Mount Everest likely stayed the same, experts said today.

The massive 7.8-magnitude quake on Saturday was the Himalayan nation’s deadliest disaster in more than 80 years, killing more than 4,300 people and causing massive destruction.

AP file photo

According to early seismological data obtained from sound waves which travel through Earth after an earthquake, the ground beneath the capital Kathmandu may have moved about three metres southward, said University of Cambridge tectonics expert James Jackson.

His analysis was similar to that of Sandy Steacy, head of the physical sciences department at the University of Adelaide.

“It’s likely that the earthquake occurred on the Himalayan Thrust fault, a plate boundary that separates the northern moving Indian sub-continent from Eurasia,” said Steacy.

“The fault dips about 10 degrees to the north-northeast. The relative movement across the fault zone was on the order of three metres at its greatest, just north of Kathmandu.”

The fault lies between two tectonic plates — one bearing India pushing northward into a plate carrying Europe and Asia at a rate of about two centimetres (0.8 inches) per year — the process that created the Himalayas in the first place.

Mark Allen, from the Department of Earth Sciences at the University of Durham in Britain, explained that the rocks on top of the fault moved southwards over the rocks underneath it, causing an overall shortening of the Earth’s crust in the region.

“It would be simplistic to say that Kathmandu was relocated by three metres,” he said.
“There may have been three metres of slip on the fault at the earthquake nucleation point at 15 kilometres depth. But this dies out in all directions, including upwards to the surface.”

It remains unclear whether the shifts may be large enough to necessitate adjustments to high-precision world maps.

While Kathmandu moved, it is unlikely that the height of Mount Everest — the highest peak in the world — changed more than a few millimetres, with the mountain not directly above the faultline.

“The main slip was west of Everest, the mountain was not directly above the fault plane,” said Steacy.

“In addition, the dip of the fault is very shallow so three metres in a horizontal direction doesn’t mean much vertically.”

Allen concurred, adding that “there may be an effect if an avalanche has dislodged some of the snow cover on the summit”.

Ian Main, a professor of seismology and rock physics at the University of Edinburgh, said there may have been a small change in height but it was too soon to tell.

US military tests ‘self-steering’ bullets that can follow moving targets .


Self-steering bullets that can steer themselves towards a moving target have been tested by the US Department of Defense.

The bullet was developed by America’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency to “increase hit rates for difficult, long-distance shots”.

US military tests 'self-steering' bullets that can follow moving targets

It has now been revealed a series of tests in February were successful, with even novices that were using the system for the first time able to hit moving targets.

The project, which is known as Exacto, is thought to use small fins that shoot out of the bullet and re-direct its path, but the US has not disclosed how it works.

It only says that the programme has “developed new approaches and advanced capabilities to improve the range and accuracy of sniper systems beyond the current state of the art”.

The bullet features a real-time optical guidance system to direct it to its target by compensating for “weather, wind, target movement and other factors” that could prevent successful hits.

That should allow snipers to become much more accurate.

“True to DARPA’s mission, EXACTO has demonstrated what was once thought impossible: the continuous guidance of a small-caliber bullet to target,” said Jerome Dunn, DARPA program manager.

“This live-fire demonstration from a standard rifle showed that EXACTO is able to hit moving and evading targets with extreme accuracy at sniper ranges unachievable with traditional rounds.

“Fitting EXACTO’s guidance capabilities into a small .50-caliber size is a major breakthrough and opens the door to what could be possible in future guided projectiles across all calibers.”