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Puppies may be born ready to communicate with people

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A new study suggests dogs display ‘human-like social skills’ from a young age, based on their genetics.

A dog may be a human’s best friend, but new research suggests that some puppy pals are born with this ability to connect with us.

In a study published to Current Biology, researchers found that the capacity to interact with people can be present in dogs from a very young age, and that some puppies start off better at it than others based on their genetics.

“Puppies will reciprocate human social gaze and successfully use information given by a human in a social context from a very young age and prior to extensive experience with humans,” said Emily Bray of the University of Arizona, Tucson, who led the study.

Bray and her colleagues conducted their research with a US organisation training service dogs. They tested 375 eight-week-old puppies with a similar rearing history.

These puppies were tasked with finding a hidden piece of food by following a human who was pointing to an indicated location.

A puppy and a woman are sitting across from each other on the floor. There are two blue cups in front of the woman, and she is pointing to one of them.

Image: Emily Bray/Canine Companions

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The findings showed that puppies are skilful early on when it comes to social communications that rely on gestures and eye contact. However, the communication only worked when a person also initiated the interaction by speaking to the puppies in a high-pitched voice.

The study also found that more than 40pc of the variation in a puppy’s ability to follow the human’s finger pointing was explained by the genes they’ve inherited. This also applied to the variation in gazing behaviour during a human-interest task.

“From a young age, dogs display human-like social skills, which have a strong genetic component, meaning these abilities have strong potential to undergo selection,” Bray said.

“Our findings might therefore point to an important piece of the domestication story, in that animals with a propensity for communication with our own species might have been selected for in the wolf populations that gave rise to dogs.”

The next step in this research is to see if specific genes can be identified that contribute to these behaviours. Researchers also hope to explore how different aspects of a dog’s early environment might influence its cognitive and social ability.

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Power Capital takes majority interest in Terra Solar’s portfolio

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Terra Solar, a NovaUCD start-up founded in 2016, is giving up its sites in Wexford and Cork to Power Capital to develop solar farms.

Dublin-based company Power Capital Renewable Energy (PCRE) has announced plans to acquire majority interest in Terra Solar’s 400MW portfolio.

This will bring the company’s total solar assets to 840MW and boost its presence in the Irish solar power space.

A start-up that sprung out of NovaUCD, the University College Dublin accelerator, Terra Solar was founded by David Fewer and André Fernon in 2016. State-owned ESB was one of Terra Solar’s early investors, putting up €2.5m for a stake in the company.

Paris-based VC firm Omnes Capital will back the development of the solar sites over the next few years, which require around €200m to build out. Irish and international lenders will also back the development.

Power Capital director Peter Duff said that his company’s aim of becoming Ireland’s leading independent power producer has come a step closer with the deal.

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“Both Terra Solar and PCRE share common values and ambitions to help Ireland meet its 2030 targets and we are excited that Terra Solar chose us as a partner to bring these sites through construction,” he said.

The solar farm sites, located in Wexford and Cork, are a culmination of more than four years of engagement with local landowners, communities and planners, said Fewer.

“We will be retaining an equity stake in the developments and will be working intensively with all stakeholders over the coming few years to ensure that these sites are successfully constructed while equally continuing to grow our remaining development pipeline of 600MW.”

Justin Brown, co-founder of Power Capital, said that the company is currently in talks with other industry bodies about “increasing our foothold in the sector and we expect to see renewable energy being the dominant generator of electricity across Ireland within the next decade”.

Construction on the solar farms is set to begin in 2022 and the project is expected to be completed in the next five years.

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2021 iPhone photography awards – in pictures | Technology

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The 14th annual iPhone photography awards offer glimpses of beauty, hope and the endurance of the human spirit. Out of thousands of submissions, photojournalist Istvan Kerekes of Hungary was named the grand prize winner for his image Transylvanian Shepherds. In it, two rugged shepherds traverse an equally rugged industrial landscape, bearing a pair of lambs in their arms.

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With Alphabet’s legendary commitment to products, we can’t wait to see what its robotics biz Intrinsic achieves • The Register

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Alphabet today launched its latest tech startup, Intrinsic, which aims to build commercial software that will power industrial robots.

Intrinsic will focus on developing software control tools for industrial robots used in manufacturing, we’re told. Its pitch is that the days of humans having to manually program and adjust a robot’s every move are over, and that mechanical bots should be more autonomous and smart, thanks to advances in artificial intelligence and leaps in training techniques.

This could make robots easier to direct – give them a task, and they’ll figure out the specifics – and more efficient – the AI can work out the best way to achieve its goal.

“Over the last few years, our team has been exploring how to give industrial robots the ability to sense, learn, and automatically make adjustments as they’re completing tasks, so they work in a wider range of settings and applications,” said CEO Wendy Tan White.

“Working in collaboration with teams across Alphabet, and with our partners in real-world manufacturing settings, we’ve been testing software that uses techniques like automated perception, deep learning, reinforcement learning, motion planning, simulation, and force control.”

Tan White – a British entrepreneur and investor who was made an MBE by the Queen in 2016 for her services to the tech industry – will leave her role as vice president of X, Alphabet’s moonshot R&D lab, to concentrate on Intrinsic.

She earlier co-founded and was CEO of website-building biz Moonfruit, and helped multiple early-stage companies get up and running as a general partner at Entrepreneur First, a tech accelerator. She is also a board trustee of the UK’s Alan Turing Institute, and member of Blighty’s Digital Economic Council.

“I loved the role I played in creating platforms that inspired the imagination and entrepreneurship of people all over the world, and I’ve recently stepped into a similar opportunity: I’m delighted to share that I’m now leading Intrinsic, a new Alphabet company,” she said.

The new outfit is another venture to emerge from Google-parent Alphabet’s X labs, along with Waymo, the self-driving car startup; and Verily, a biotech biz. ®

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