Instagram has started requiring all people signing up to create a new account to provide their birth date, in an attempt to keep younger users safe....

The details: You have to be 13 to create an account, although Instagram won’t verify the information provided. Until now, Instagram just required its one billion users to tick a box saying they are over the age of 13 when they sign up. Birthdays won’t be visible to other people on Instagram, and existing users won’t be asked to provide their birthdays—at least for now. Users who have merged their Instagram account with their Facebook profile, which requires a birth date, have already provided that data to Instagram. 

Why is Instagram doing this? It says it’s so it can provide new safety measures for younger users. The company has been gradually introducing tools to crack down on bullying, self-harm, and suicide imagery on the app, partly in response to anger over the suicide of a 14-year-old girl named Molly Russell whose account had contained distressing material. Snapchat and TikTok already ask new users to provide birth dates.

The ads angle: It will also help Instagram check that it’s showing ads for alcohol, gambling, and other age-restricted products to people who are legally old enough, although the company said this wasn’t the main purpose of the change. Instagram likely hopes the policy could preempt any new laws restricting its activity in the US, the UK, and other countries where family safety groups have been critical of its policies.

A role for AI? Instagram told Reuters it expects “most people will be honest about birth dates,” but it eventually sees a role for artificial intelligence in verifying people’s ages. By analyzing this birthday data, along with posts mentioning “happy birthday” and other terms, Instagram has trained machine-learning software that can predict a user’s age and gender. The data from new sign-ups will help to improve accuracy, Instagram’s head of product, Vishal Shah, told Reuters.


Artificial neurons that mimic the way our body's nerve cells transfer electrical signals could one day help patients with nerve damage....

Messengers: The neurons are built into small silicon chips (pictured above) and could be used to pass signals between nerve cells that may be damaged by disease or injury. Crucially, the chips only need one billionth the power of a standard microprocessor, meaning they could theoretically be used in medical implants to help treat chronic diseases like heart failure or Alzheimer’s.

How they were developed: The researchers used a simulation to model how two types of neurons in rats fire in response to stimuli: respiratory ones that are responsible for breathing and ones in the hippocampus. The models were translated to silicon chips in which replicas of biological ion channels (which transmit signals in the body) were created. The process was described in a paper in Nature Communications.

Stand-in: In theory, circuits of artificial neurons could replicate the healthy function of failing nerve cells and pass on electrical messages between different parts of the body. For example, when someone’s heart fails, neurons in the brain don’t respond properly to nervous system feedback, so the heart doesn’t pump as hard as it should. A chip containing artificial neurons could transmit the right signal to get it back on track.

In fact, some of the researchers are now developing smart pacemakers with these chips embedded. Tests in rats showed that this approach was more effective than just a standard pacemaker—although it’s still a long time before any such device is ready to be implanted in human patients.