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Scottish Farmers Test Machine Vision to Manage Pig Pugnacity

Algorithms aided by 3D cameras predict when pigs are about to nip each other’s tails

3 min read
Photo: Arctic Images/Getty Images
Tasty Tails: In extreme tail-biting outbreaks, up to 30 percent of pigs raised together may be affected by bites so severe that their carcasses are no longer fit for human consumption.
Photo: Arctic Images/Getty Images

Pig farmers want human diners to bite into the delicious pork they produce, not for swine to bite each other. (Yes, it happens.) Now, using 3D cameras and machine-vision algorithms, scientists are developing a way to automatically detect when a pig might be about to chomp down on another pig.

Pigs have an unfortunate habit of biting one another’s tails. Infections from these bites can render up to 30 percent of a pig farm’s swine unfit for human consumption. Docking, or cutting, pig tails can reduce such biting but does not eliminate it, and the routine use of docking is banned in the European Union. There are a wide range of potential triggers for outbreaks of tail biting—among them genetics, diet, overcrowding, temperature variations, insufficient ventilation and lighting, disease, and even the season—so it’s an unpredictable problem. “Tail biting is a very frustrating challenge,” says John Deen, a veterinarian and epidemiologist at the University of Minnesota. “Controlling it has not always been that effective.”

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Quantum Error Correction: Time to Make It Work

If technologists can’t perfect it, quantum computers will never be big

13 min read
Quantum Error Correction: Time to Make It Work
Chad Hagen

Dates chiseled into an ancient tombstone have more in common with the data in your phone or laptop than you may realize. They both involve conventional, classical information, carried by hardware that is relatively immune to errors. The situation inside a quantum computer is far different: The information itself has its own idiosyncratic properties, and compared with standard digital microelectronics, state-of-the-art quantum-computer hardware is more than a billion trillion times as likely to suffer a fault. This tremendous susceptibility to errors is the single biggest problem holding back quantum computing from realizing its great promise.

Fortunately, an approach known as quantum error correction (QEC) can remedy this problem, at least in principle. A mature body of theory built up over the past quarter century now provides a solid theoretical foundation, and experimentalists have demonstrated dozens of proof-of-principle examples of QEC. But these experiments still have not reached the level of quality and sophistication needed to reduce the overall error rate in a system.

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