1. DeepMind’s streak of applying its world-class AI to hard science problems continues. In collaboration with the Swiss Plasma Center at EPFL—a university in Lausanne, Switzerland—the UK-based AI firm has now trained a deep reinforcement learning algorithm to control the superheated soup of matter inside a nuclear fusion reactor. The breakthrough, published in the journal Nature, could help physicists better understand how fusion works, and potentially speed up the arrival of an unlimited source of clean energy. “This is one of the most challenging applications of reinforcement learning to a real-world system,” says Martin Riedmiller, a researcher at DeepMind. In nuclear fusion, the atomic nuclei of hydrogen atoms get forced together to form heavier atoms, like helium. This produces a lot of energy relative to a tiny amount of fuel, making it a very efficient source of power. It is far cleaner and safer than fossil fuels or conventional nuclear power, which is created by fission—forcing nuclei apart. It is also the process that powers stars. (Sources: deepmind.com, technologyreview.com, nature.com)
2. Sand dunes form in large groups known as dune fields, whispering in the desert wind or flowing with the water on a seabed. Now researchers have discovered that dunes communicate with their neighbors as they move across these landscapes — they can even push their neighbor dunes farther away, according to a paper published in the journal Physical Review Letters on Tuesday. The findings could help experts understand how dune movements affect infrastructure, which could be key in adapting to a changing climate. It’s well known that sand dunes move around and that smaller dunes move faster than larger ones, said Nathalie Vriend, the paper’s senior author from Cambridge University’s BP Institute for Multiphase Flow. But researchers assumed that a pair of identical dunes would move together at the same speed. Instead, identical dunes that start close repel each other, moving farther away over time. “They’re definitely communicating,” Vriend said in an interview with The Washington Post. “If I give my neighbor in front of me a push, it’s something I do. But we’re not talking about humans with brains, we’re talking about sand dunes that communicate — inanimate objects communicating information.” (Source: washingtonpost.com)
3. Russia is continuing its military buildup around Ukraine, Western officials said, even as Moscow announced it had begun drawing down some troops and released footage of tanks and armored personnel carriers departing Crimea. On Wednesday, the day some U.S. intelligence officials had said a Russian invasion was likely to occur, Ukrainians rallied across the country in a display of solidarity and defiance in morning ceremonies. A cyberattack rattled the country the previous day, targeting the Ministry of Defense and two of the biggest banks, temporarily disrupting payments and showing zero balances on accounts. “We have heard the signs from Moscow about readiness to continue diplomatic efforts,” North Atlantic Treaty Organization Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said, as defense ministers from the alliance’s 30 member states gathered in Brussels. “But so far, we have not seen any de-escalation on the ground. On the contrary, it appears that Russia continues its military buildup.” (Source: wsj.com)
4. Pro-Russian separatists and Ukrainian authorities earlier today traded allegations of cease-fire violations along the tense front line separating the two sides, as Western officials said Moscow continued to mass troops along the border of its smaller neighbor. Representatives of two breakaway Russian-backed and Russian-armed statelets in Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region, known as the Luhansk People’s Republic and the Donetsk People’s Republic, said Ukraine’s armed forces had launched grenades and mortars into their territory. Ukraine’s military said Russian-controlled forces had violated the cease-fire at eight places in the 24 hours up to 7 a.m. local time with mortars, antitank grenades and small arms. Later Thursday, Ukrainian state media said a projectile hit a kindergarten building. (Source: wsj.com)
5. A total of 24 Russian warships have been operating in the Sea of Japan and the southern part of the Sea of Okhotsk since Feb. 1, the Defense Ministry said Tuesday, in what defense chief Nobuo Kishi called part of “unusual” large-scale military exercises. “The move comes in concert with Russian forces’ recent activities in areas near Ukraine,” Kishi told a news conference Tuesday, noting that Russia’s military was believed to be stepping up its activities to highlight that it remains capable of operating both on the east and west of the country at the same time. (Source: japantimes.co.jp)
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