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Can robots ever truly understand empathy?

That's the big question behind a new study.

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Henry Ford was obsessed with many things, including efficiency. During the height of the Great Depression, Ford became obsessed with the possibilities of agriculture. Specifically, he wondered if soybeans could be a substitute for traditional metals in building vehicles. The idea sounds wild but seemed realistic, especially considering that soybeans are around 18% oil and 38% protein. For years, the company had developed small plastic objects out of soy, including salt-and-pepper shakers. He would also encourage people to consider all-soybean diets.

The potential was revolutionary. If the idea worked, car manufacturers would no longer be beholden to the steel and metal industry, with the ability to grow a vehicle wherever they could be farmed.

Ford was used to building his experiments out. In 1928, he had tried building a city in the Amazon rainforest to test out various work philosophies. This time, he merely began planting soybeans in Greenfield Village, Ford's outdoor living museum where visitors learned about pioneer days. The idea made progress, with a prototype completed in 1941, and on this day in 1942, Ford was approved for a patent for an automobile chassis based on soybeans.

The idea never got much further than that. World War II was of paramount importance at the time, and according to the Henry Ford Museum, the plastic soybean car "had fallen through the cracks due to energy being directed towards war recovery efforts." If only Henry Ford had let his virulent anti-Semitism go as easily.

Our question of the week: As if the winter cold wasn't enough, thanks to Covid, even people in warm environments are staying inside more this season. It can be tough. We're huge video game nerds at Inverse, but sometimes the screens are too much, even for us. We're wondering if you have any favorite low-tech games, from pen-and-paper to board games to cards. Let us in on your rainy day secrets!

This is an adapted version of the Inverse Daily newsletter for January 13, 2021. Subscribe for free and earn rewards for reading every day in your inbox.

Pump it — There's no limit to the cardiovascular benefits of exercise — study

Exercise reigns supreme when it comes to safeguarding mental and physical health. That's because moving on a frequent basis sets off a cascade of positive physiological and psychological benefits, relieving stress, building muscle, burning calories, and staving off disease. But until now, researchers hypothesized that many of those benefits leveled off with high amounts of physical activity.

In a recent study, which tracked over 90,000 people for five years, researchers discovered that when it comes to heart health, the limits of exercise's positive effects don't exist. In the study, people who exercised the most had no upper threshold of cardiovascular benefit.

While you can overdo it on the treadmill or overextend yourself in the gym, generally, more exercise is better health-wise, this research suggests. So lace up your trainers, roll out your yoga mat, or take the dog around the block — your heart will thank you.

Let's get physical, physical

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Get rhythm — Our ability to fight disease relies heavily on this overlooked process

The circadian rhythm most famously controls our sleep-wake cycle. Being a "morning person" or a "night owl" is a behavioral consequence of how a person’s genes affect their natural "body clock," while jet lag is the manifestation of a disrupted circadian rhythm.

But the circadian rhythm, a 24-hour natural process aligned with Earth’s rotation, also controls metabolism, body temperature, hormones, and immunity. A number of human diseases, in turn, display a “circadian component” and are possibly a consequence of faulty circadian clocks.

In a study released Tuesday in the journal Genome Research, scientists report the circadian rhythm influences our ability to fight off diseases more than previously realized. This is a new understanding of an ancient process — and a reminder that what’s known as good “sleep hygiene” is critical for health.

What is a circadian rhythm, really?

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Better half — Solar wind study explains why the northern lights are so spectacular

Throughout its 11-year cycle, the Sun occasionally sends explosive streams of charged particles our way. As they travel towards Earth, these particles interact with our planet's atmosphere. In the aftermath of the collision, a beautiful display of green, purple, and red lights may twist across the sky.

Near the Earth's North Pole, these lights are known as aurora borealis, or the famous northern lights. At the South Pole, the same process is called the aurora australis, or the less famous southern lights. In a new study, astronomers reveal the reason why the northern lights may be so much better known than their southern counterparts.

In a new study published this week in the journal Nature, a team of scientists show how solar wind emitted by the Sun favors the Earth's magnetic North Pole rather than the South Pole. In other words, space weather may be worse in the Northern Hemisphere than in the south.

The findings have implications for how space weather affects us down here on Earth, with the Northern Hemisphere being subjected to harsher solar winds — and more potential damage.

There's more to their majestic beauty

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Coming soon ...

It's cold out. If only we could hibernate the winters away like bears, but the human body must be run constantly for it to work right. But wait! This can actually be a good thing. Coming soon on Inverse, a look at how a cold weather workout could be just the thing to change your workout routine. Seriously.

Almost there... — Buying electric vehicles could be the tipping point for climate change

What if your electric car could save the world from the climate crisis?

That proposition might seem like a far-fetched idea — a by-product of a hyper-capitalist system that focuses on consumer decisions rather than bigger systemic issues to tackle environmental disasters.

But according to new research published in the journal Climate Policy, it just might be true. By focusing on two industries — electric vehicles and the energy sector — national governments and consumers can generate a set of climate change tipping points that would ultimately catalyze a global movement.

What is a tipping point, anyway?

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I'm sorry, Dave — A.I. displays an unsettling skill: the ability to show empathy

Empathy enables couples to understand and predict the actions of each other. It's long been the domain of primates, but a new breakthrough has revealed how scientists are teaching A.I. to act a little like your girlfriend.

Using only visual data and no pre-programmed logic, researchers trained an A.I. to accurately predict the final action of a secondary robot "actor." At its peak, the A.I. could accurately predict the robot actor's final action (after only seeing its starting point) with 98.5 percent accuracy across four movement patterns.

Can robots truly put themselves in a carbon-based lifeform's shoes?

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And now, the answers to last week's question! We were asking about any tech-related resolutions you are bringing into 2021.

"My tech resolution is to reduce the # of apps and focus on the basics!" — Kathy Murray

"Firstly, I am planning to find and partake in training on some of the new digital accounting tools that are out there now, such as A.I., blockchain, robotic process automation, and others. As an aspiring student of the field, it will be important to have a well-rounded, tech-focused knowledge base going into this next decade. Also, I plan to limit my time on Facebook a great deal this year, as in the past year I spent an untold number of hours doomscrolling and getting lost in the feed and arguments." — Leavy White

My tech resolution is to learn to code, eventually becoming a developer. But as I begin to dig, I am finding out I have no idea where to start. Any suggestions?" — Jeff Turner (Feel free to write to the Daily with any suggestions for Jeff!)

And if you're looking for one more thing, how about checking out an iconic sci-fi movie on Hulu? Thank you for reading! Follow me on Twitter if you want, where I tweet too much.

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