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General Interest

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Language and Evolution

We are born crying, but those cries signal the first stirring of language. Within a year or so, infants master the sound system of their language; a few years after that, they are engaging in conversations. This remarkable, species-specific ability to acquire any human language—“the language faculty”—raises important biological questions about language, including how it has evolved. This book by two distinguished scholars—a computer scientist and a linguist—addresses the enduring question of the evolution of language.

Past, Present, and Future

Dolphin researchers have collected an impressive amount of data over the last twenty years, thanks to advances in technology for monitoring, recording, and analyzing dolphin behavior as well as increasing interest in exploring and modeling dolphins’ cognitive capacities. This volume offers a comprehensive reference to the latest research on dolphin communication and cognition, reporting on findings from both the laboratory and the field.

With robots, we are inventing a new species that is part material and part digital. The ambition of modern robotics goes beyond copying humans, beyond the effort to make walking, talking androids that are indistinguishable from people. Future robots will have superhuman abilities in both the physical and digital realms. They will be embedded in our physical spaces, with the ability to go where we cannot, and will have minds of their own, thanks to artificial intelligence.

Toward New Therapies

Today, translational neuroscience faces significant challenges. Available therapies to treat brain and nervous system disorders are extremely limited and dated, and further development has effectively ceased. Disinvestment by the private sector occurred just as promising new technologies in genomics, stem cell biology, and neuroscience emerged to offer new possibilities. In this volume, experts from both academia and industry discuss how novel technologies and reworked translation concepts can create a more effective translational neuroscience.

Personal Urban Mobility for the 21st Century

This book provides a long-overdue vision for a new automobile era. The cars we drive today follow the same underlying design principles as the Model Ts of a hundred years ago and the tail-finned sedans of fifty years ago. In the twenty-first century, cars are still made for twentieth-century purposes. They are inefficient for providing personal mobility within cities—where most of the world’s people now live.

What We Have Taken from Nature

The biosphere—the Earth’s thin layer of life—dates from nearly four billion years ago, when the first simple organisms appeared. Many species have exerted enormous influence on the biosphere’s character and productivity, but none has transformed the Earth in so many ways and on such a scale as Homo sapiens. In Harvesting the Biosphere, Vaclav Smil offers an interdisciplinary and quantitative account of human claims on the biosphere’s stores of living matter, from prehistory to the present day.

The Hand and the Emergence of Humanity

This book is a hymn to the hand. In Prehension, Colin McGinn links questions from science to philosophical concerns to consider something that we take for granted: the importance of the hand in everything we do. Drawing on evolutionary biology, anatomy, archaeology, linguistics, psychology, and philosophy, among other disciplines, McGinn examines the role of the hand in shaping human evolution. He finds that the development of our capacity to grasp, to grip, to take hold (also known as prehension) is crucial in the emergence of Homo sapiens.

The United States has one of the highest rates of premature birth of any industrialized nation: 11.5%, nearly twice the rate of many European countries. In this book, John Lantos and Diane Lauderdale examine why the rate of preterm birth in the United States remains high—even though more women have access to prenatal care now than three decades ago. They also analyze a puzzling paradox: why, even as the rate of preterm birth rose through the 1990s and early 2000s, the rate of infant mortality steadily decreased.

The idea that human history is approaching a “singularity”—that ordinary humans will someday be overtaken by artificially intelligent machines or cognitively enhanced biological intelligence, or both—has moved from the realm of science fiction to serious debate. Some singularity theorists predict that if the field of artificial intelligence (AI) continues to develop at its current dizzying rate, the singularity could come about in the middle of the present century.

Many parts of the world in which common infectious diseases are endemic also have the highest prevalence of trace metal deficiencies or rising rates of trace metal pollution. Infectious diseases can increase human susceptibility to adverse effects of metal exposure (at suboptimal or toxic levels), and metal excess or deficiency can increase the incidence or severity of infectious diseases.

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