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Inverse Daily

Watch a robot smile back :)

Plus: How to deal with mental fatigue this summer of all summers.

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The world of robotics is most interesting when the robots look like us. I have something like 10 robots in my home if you count the Google-connected smart speakers and displays, the knock-off Roomba, the motion-sensing cameras. But none of those robots — smart as they are — can smile back. They are just A.I.s. They have voices and eyes and ears but no face.

What happens when robots get faces? The technology is certainly there, but it’s kind of creepy to think of my Google Display, with a Max Headroom-like face, tell me the internal temperature of pork instead of the disembodied voice of a British woman who tells me it now. (Put that way, both sound creepy.)

But there are situations where a robot with a face isn’t creepy. If you need to communicate across the language barrier, or just quickly, or just with nuance that can’t be put into words. There are no limits to the number of human emotions, and researchers at Columbia University are realizing it firsthand with Eva, a robotic head that smiles, winces, and expresses all manner of other eerily human emotions.

I’m Nick Lucchesi, editor-in-chief at Inverse, and the story of Eva is in this edition of Inverse Daily. The Inverse mission is to share big ideas about science and innovation in an entertaining style, and to look at entertainment and culture with deeply curious methods. I’m glad you’re with us this Wednesday morning.

What question could have such a clear answer but also divide opinion? All will be revealed soon, but first, take our apocalypse bag survey to cast your votes.

Mailbag — Have you taken our annual apocalypse bag poll yet? The pie chart you see above shows the data from one of our interesting questions, showing that decisions can be quite split if we’re talking about the early days at the end of the world. Take the anonymous survey here. We’ve had more than 1,300 respondents so far! We will publish the results later this summer in a special guide.

This is an adapted version of the Inverse Daily newsletter for July 7, 2021. Subscribe for free and earn rewards for reading every day in your inbox.

Eva is made using a 3D-printed and assembled skull with a blue, flesh-like face mask placed on top.Faraj et al.

Robots are learning to smile Researchers from Columbia University have designed a robot that can smile just like a human, but how well humans will react to this is yet to be seen, reports Sarah Wells:

Eva is a blue-skinned robotic head designed by Boyuan Chen, a computer science Ph.D. student at Columbia University, and colleagues from Columbia’s Creative Machines Lab. With 12 tiny muscle-like actuators built into its face, Eva is prepared to express many human emotions — from fear to joy to disgust.

Chen tells Inverse that he and the rest of the team behind Eva aren’t sure exactly how many emotions it can express.

“Can you tell me how many expressions you can make?” Chen asks me. “It’s a very hard question to answer, and it’s the same for the robot. I'm happy to see this happen because if we know the exact number [of emotions], that means there are limits. We do not know the number, [so] there are no limits.”

Read the full story.

Go deeper:

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Does music help when exercising? New research suggests listening to music during a run may actually trick us into thinking it isn’t as strenuous and help the brain feel less fatigued. Sophie Putka has the story:

There might be a little something extra to Jazzercize, spin classes, and Zumba besides spandex, sweat, and (potentially) killer abs.

All three share a common element — one that might actually do more than provide the beat behind a grueling workout.

Listening to music during a run may actually boost performance and trick the brain into thinking the workout isn’t as strenuous, according to a recent study published in the Journal of Human Sport and Exercise.

Read the full story.

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The next pandemic In June, Congress saw introduced legislation to fund the development of new antimicrobials to fight drug-resistant pathogens. Katie MacBride writes in her new feature about a likely future:

Before the spring of 2020, we always knew a pandemic like Covid-19 could happen, even if it felt like the real danger was perpetually in the future.

Now, as the pandemic slows in the U.S., a new question has emerged: How much have we actually learned from this pandemic?

The truth is that a different type of dangerous pathogen is already here. Scientists have called attention to it, but it still hasn’t garnered the type of alarm experts believe it deserves: antibiotic-resistant bacteria, also known as “super-bacteria.”

According to a 2019 report from the Centers for Disease Control, “more than 2.8 million antibiotic-resistant infections occur in the U.S. each year, and more than 35,000 people die as a result.” Experts think those numbers are likely to get worse before they get better.

We’re at the precipice of what will happen next. In June, a bipartisan House and Senate bill, known as the PASTEUR Act, was introduced. It’s legislation that would support the development of new antimicrobials that might combat drug-resistant pathogens.

Read the full story.

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Here’s one way to combat mental fatigue.lingqi xie/Moment/Getty Images

Combat mental fatigue Mental fatigue is “a psychobiological state caused by prolonged periods of demanding cognitive ability.” Experts say it is on the rise after Covid-19. Sarah Sloat reports on a few science-backed strategies to deal with it.

Our brains are maladapted to this modern world. There is too much information to decipher — information that informs us, yes, and can terrify and confuse. This processing, paired with subsequent decision-making, can lead to overload.

It’s why you’ve heard of phrases like “pandemic fatigue” and “election fatigue.” Ultimately, what you’re dealing with is mental fatigue.

Suzy Russell, who is pursuing a Ph.D. in mental fatigue at the University of Queensland, defines mental fatigue as “a psychobiological state caused by prolonged periods of demanding cognitive ability.” It can be measured by how someone feels, how they perform, and physiological markers in the brain. What constitutes “demanding cognitive activity,” she tells me, “depends on the individual and their interaction with the environment.”

It’s a concept worth identifying, understanding, and combating. Mental fatigue is on the rise, triggered by the Covid-19 pandemic. Feeling overwhelmed isn’t just having an “off day” — it’s a fair reaction to unprecedented events.

Read the full story.

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Actress Shelley Duvall on the set of The Shining, released in 1980. Duvall, who gave a powerful, iconic performance in the role, marks a birthday today.Sunset Boulevard/Corbis Historical/Getty Images
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  • Before we go: Shelley Duvall (72; pictured above), Ringo Starr (81), Michelle Kwan (41), Lisa Leslie (49), Alesso (30) were all born on this day (Source: AP.)
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