Resurrection plants

3 minutes

Las del diente

5 minutes

The river

4 minutes

The story of government cheese

7 minutes

But what is a neural network?

19 minutes

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Will life-forms that can go a century without water save crops from droughts?

Scientists are becoming increasingly determined to find viable, sustainable ways to locate, save and recycle water. One search has led scientists to Tortula ruralis, a moss group capable of surviving as long as 100 years without water. During dry periods, these mosses stop photosynthesising and write a set of genetic instructions so they can spring back to life as soon as a water source returns. Similarly resilient are the microscopic creatures known as rotifers that live inside the moss. Scientists hope they might be able to borrow from the rotifers’ genetic code to engineer crops that could repair themselves after a dry spell.

Producer: Gabriela Quirós

Website: Deep Look

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A magical mystery trip through the complex connections in women’s bodies

‘Girls are weird. Babies are weird. Bodies are extra weird,’ says the Spanish animator Ana Pérez López. In Las del Diente, she uses excerpts from candid conversations with three women as a canvas for a refreshingly honest and unapologetic meditation on modern womanhood. The anecdotes are enriched with hallucinatory animated sequences and percussive interludes, transforming their conversations about social pressure and biological anomalies into a surreal celebration of being female, in all its multitudes – from having your body treated like a business to contending with deeply conflicted feelings about having children.

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‘Where is it that we are?’ A poet conjures a journey along the waters of the afterlife

The short film The River evocatively adapts the US spoken-word poet Anis Mojgani’s performance of ‘To Where the Trees Grow Tall’ from his book In the Pockets of Small Gods (2018). Mojgani invokes a surreal scene of confusion, mystery and casual conversations between newly deceased strangers in a piece that envisions its listeners in their coffins, ‘clanging down the river, with all the other coffins in the water of the next world’. The US filmmaker Kristian Melom pairs this performance with split-screen images of the poet navigating a cityscape and a journey down a serenely flowing river. Through Mojgani’s words and Melom’s images, death – like life – is rendered as at once mundane and deeply enigmatic.

Director: Kristian Melom

Producer: AIR Serenbe

Executive Producer: J Brandon Hinman

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Before ‘government cheese’ was a punchline, it was an experimental economic plan

Today, the term ‘government cheese’ is perhaps most commonly associated with the late US comedian Chris Farley and his 1993 Saturday Night Live sketch in which a motivational speaker warns a couple of wayward teens that, if they don’t get their act together, they’ll soon be ‘living in a van down by the river’ on a steady diet of the stuff. But before it became well-worn comedy fodder, the dairy surplus was the result of a 1977 US government initiative to support farmers and assure the country’s control of its own food supply. However, as this charming (or irritating, depending on your lactose tolerance) cheese-filled explainer from NPR’s Planet Money details, the whole endeavour went a bit haywire. And although the ‘government cheese’ programme effectively ended in the 1990s, its legacy has left the US a bit milk-bloated ever since.

Producers: Bronson Acuri, Ben Naddaff-Hafrey

Website: Planet Money

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Why artificial neural networks have a long way to go before they can ‘see’ like us

Artificial neural networks were created to imitate processes in our brains, and in many respects – such as performing the quick, complex calculations necessary to win strategic games such as chess and Go – they’ve already surpassed us. But if you’ve ever clicked through a CAPTCHA test online to prove you’re human, you know that our visual cortex still reigns supreme over its artificial imitators (for now, at least). So if schooling world chess champions has become a breeze, what’s so hard about, say, positively identifying a handwritten ‘9’? This explainer from the US YouTuber Grant Sanderson, who creates maths videos under the moniker 3Blue1Brown, works from a program designed to identify handwritten variations of each of the 10 Arabic numerals (0-9) to detail the basics of how artificial neural networks operate. It’s a handy crash-course – and one that will almost certainly make you appreciate the extraordinary amount of work your brain does to accomplish what might seem like simple tasks.

Video by 3Blue1Brown

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Will life-forms that can go a century without water save crops from droughts?

Scientists are becoming increasingly determined to find viable, sustainable ways to locate, save and recycle water. One search has led scientists to Tortula ruralis, a moss group capable of surviving as long as 100 years without water. During dry periods, these mosses stop photosynthesising and write a set of genetic instructions so they can spring back to life as soon as a water source returns. Similarly resilient are the microscopic creatures known as rotifers that live inside the moss. Scientists hope they might be able to borrow from the rotifers’ genetic code to engineer crops that could repair themselves after a dry spell.

Producer: Gabriela Quirós

Website: Deep Look

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Essay/
Medicine
In defence of antidepressants

The backlash against antidepressants results from a suspicion of medicine, and misunderstands the very nature of depression

Vasco M Barreto

Essay/
Mathematics
Social physics

Despite the vagaries of free will and circumstance, human behaviour in bulk is far more predictable than we like to imagine

Ian Stewart