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TWP: Bacteria Evolved to Save the Planet. Can We?

TWP: Bacteria Evolved to Save the Planet. Can We?

After millions of years of gloriously successful life on Earth, a dangerous new organism arose and spread rapidly across the planet. Mankind? No. Two billion years ago the delinquent organisms were cyanobacteria, the first photosynthetic life forms to give off pure oxygen gas, a chemical deadly to all extant organisms. There may be surprising parallels between the, eventually positive, cyanobacteria impact 2 billion years ago and human impact today. Human beings too are a self-inflicted biosphere disaster in progress, but, in the extremely long-term, we could be just what the planet needs. We have much to learn before we become guardians rather than despoilers of Earth. If our destiny is to safeguard life’s future, it’s time our apprenticeship began.

BI: Drones and Aerial Surveillance

BI: Drones and Aerial Surveillance

The campaigns mounted by privacy advocates oftentimes make a compelling case about the threat of pervasive surveillance, but the legislation is rarely tailored in such a way to prevent the harm that advocates fear. In fact, the new laws are focused on the technology (drones) not the harm (pervasive surveillance) and have been aimed at restricting the government’s use of drone technology, while allowing the government to conduct identical surveillance when not using drone technology. This absurd anachronism is intentional.

FA: Pentagon Adapting to Globalization

FA: Pentagon Adapting to Globalization

In late 2013, Google announced that it had acquired Boston Dynamics, an engineering and robotics company best known for creating BigDog, a four-legged robot that can accompany soldiers into rough terrain. Much of the resulting hype focused on the Internet giant and when it might start making various types of robots. What was good news for Google, however, represented a major loss for the U.S. Department of Defense.

HP: Scientists Create Telepathy

HP: Scientists Create Telepathy

Telepathy is the stuff of science fiction. But what if the dystopian futurists were on to something? What if our brains could directly interact with each other, bypassing the need for language? The idea isn’t quite so far fetched, according to a recent University of Washington study in which researchers successfully replicated a direct brain-to-brain communication between two people.

FA: Operation Sigmund Freud

FA: Operation Sigmund Freud

The cessation of major combat operations is often followed by a long period of asymmetric war, in which success can not be achieved through traditional combat. In this new phase of warfare, psychology’s core competencies of understanding individual and group behavior—of both the enemy and one’s own forces—then become the key to success.

TD: Do Nothing, Repeat

TD: Do Nothing, Repeat

The crisis in our political system is less about party than about horizon. Somehow, we seem to have lost the capacity for long-range planning and execution—at a time when, arguably, foresight and patience are more essential than ever before. Iit is hard to imagine how our system can possibly implement policies that would be effective in the long run—or how, if we managed to take the right course, we could possibly stick to it.

NYT: Starkest Warning Yet

NYT: Starkest Warning Yet

The gathering risks of climate change are so profound that they could stall or even reverse generations of progress against poverty and hunger if greenhouse emissions continue at a runaway pace, according to a major new United Nations report. In the starkest language the IPCC has ever used, the expert panel made clear how far society remains from having any serious policy to limit global warming.

BBC: Complex Organic Molecule In Space

BBC: Complex Organic Molecule In Space

Iso-propyl cyanide has been detected in a star-forming cloud 27,000 light-years from Earth. Various organic molecules have previously been discovered in interstellar space, but i-propyl cyanide is the first with a branched carbon backbone. The branched structure is important as it shows that interstellar space could be the origin of more complex branched molecules, such as amino acids, that are necessary for life on Earth.

TG: Google Wants To Control Our Lives

TG: Google Wants To Control Our Lives

Page and Brin were clear from the outset: their mission was “to organise the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful”. The crucial thing about that sentence is that there’s no reference to the internet. In some sense, every person, every object, every thought in every brain, everything anyone ever does, is information. Page and Brin told us what Google was up to. We just didn’t take them literally enough.

MIT: Tech Fix For Medicine?

MIT: Tech Fix For Medicine?

After decades as a technological laggard, medicine has entered its data age. Mobile technologies, sensors, genome sequencing, and advances in analytic software now make it possible to capture vast amounts of information about our individual makeup and the environment around us. The sum of this information could transform medicine.

SI: Xbox Controller Controls Giant Laser Cannon

SI: Xbox Controller Controls Giant Laser Cannon

Meet one of the U.S. Army’s newest toys: the High Energy Laser Mobile Demonstrator. It’s “basically a high-energy laser mounted on top of a big truck,” says Wired. It has an unusual feature, though: the laser cannon is controlled with an Xbox video game controller. There’s increasingly little distance between war games and actual war, in which drone pilots describe their jobs as “a lot like playing a video game.” ​

TG: Centre for the Study of Existential Risk

TG: Centre for the Study of Existential Risk

The four founders of the Centre for the Study of Existential Risk, cosmologist Martin Rees, Skype co-founder Jaan Tallinn, economic theorist Sir Partha Desgupta and philosopher Huw Price, are in the business of “horizon scanning” – identifying low-probability-but-high-consequence events – and are concerned mainly with risks we have created ourselves – the consequences of being too clever for our own good. One prominent risk is that artificial intelligence (AI) will outcompete our own for predominance, ultimately allowing AI to relate to humans much as humans currently do to chimpanzees. There is also the risk of the deliberate or accidental release of a virus with a modified genome, the adoption of stratospheric aerosol geo-engineering, and the use of 3-D printers to create military-grade weapons.

MIT: The History Inside Us

MIT: The History Inside Us

Svante Pääbo, director of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Germany, has shown that if only a few of the trillions of cells in a body escape destruction, a genome may survive for tens of thousands of years. For a long time, we have seen the genome as a tool for predicting the future, but it may have even more to tell us about the past. Geneticists are finding ways to explore not just big events but also the dynamics of populations through time.

MIT: Weaknesses of Big Data

MIT: Weaknesses of Big Data

Important information relating to economics, health and other things can be extracted from big data given the right tools. But exactly how this should be done accurately and reliably is still the subject of significant debate. Government agencies, companies and almost anyone willing to play with the numbers will be able to extract significant value from search query data in future. But considerable care is needed. Many an economic hangover has been caused by over-indulgence in unreliable data.

PS: The Dark Side of Physics

PS: The Dark Side of Physics

Physics provides the evolving core framework on which other fields of science are built. And now, science can go far beyond any previous expectation and extrapolation. In coming decades, everything will be susceptible to major revision as new cross-disciplines – and undisciplined threads of study – emerge. Quantum engineering teams are already springing up in academic and research institutes all around the world. The merging of computer science and engineering with neuroscience has already produced results that not long ago belonged only to science fiction.

TA: Secrets of the Creative Brain

TA: Secrets of the Creative Brain

What differences in nature and nurture can explain why some people suffer from mental illness and some do not? And why are so many of the world’s most creative minds among the most afflicted? Although many people continue to equate intelligence with genius, having a high IQ is not equivalent to being highly creative. Rather, creative people are better at recognizing relationships, making associations and connections, and seeing things in an original way—seeing things that others cannot see. So why do these highly gifted people experience mental illness at a higher-than-average rate? One interesting paradox that has emerged during conversations with subjects about their creative processes is that, though many of them suffer from mood and anxiety disorders, they associate their gifts with strong feelings of joy and excitement.

MJ: General Mills and Climate Change

MJ: General Mills and Climate Change

A few months ago, the international food manufacturing giant General Mills was branded a “clear laggard” by climate activists for not doing enough to cut its carbon footprint. Today, Oxfam International is claiming big victory: General Mills has released a new set of climate policies that Oxfam says makes it “the first major food and beverage company to promise to implement long-term science-based targets to cut emissions.”

TG: Climate Models’ Accurate Prediction

TG: Climate Models’ Accurate Prediction

Predicting global surface temperature changes in the short-term is a challenge for climate models. Temperature changes over periods of a decade or two can be dominated by influences from ocean cycles like El Niño and La Niña. We can’t yet predict ahead of time how these cycles will change. A new paper led by James Risbey just out in Nature Climate Change takes a clever approach to evaluating how accurate climate model temperature predictions have been while getting around the noise caused by natural cycles.

ALA: Facebook’s Data Mining

ALA: Facebook’s Data Mining

The reason Facebook would want data on manipulating users’ emotions should be obvious. It’s the reason the company has been moving in on social location apps, health tracking and the “quantified self” trend of turning one’s lifestyle into a report card of easily digestible numbers. To Facebook, any and all domains of human experience should be accessible for capture and monetization. By buying virtual reality start-up Oculus VR, Facebook is likely setting itself up to harvest and experiment with intimate data from that domain as well.

BBC: Learning in Your Sleep

BBC: Learning in Your Sleep

The idea of learning as you sleep was once thought very unlikely, but there are several ways to try to help you acquire new skills as you doze. During the night, our brain busily processes and consolidates our recollections from the day before, and there could be ways to enhance that process. In the near future, technology may offer further ways of upgrading the brain’s sleep cycles. Memory consolidation is thought to occur during specific, slow, oscillations of electrical activity, so the idea here is to subtly encourage those brain waves without waking the subject. But we shouldn’t shy away from the problems highlighted by fiction like Brave New World and The Simpsons. Although new methods might not be able to brainwash people against their will, we still need to question whether it would be right to start manipulating their children’s memories, for instance.

TA: Why Young Chinese Know More About Money

TA: Why Young Chinese Know More About Money

In a new report comparing financial literacy skills among 15-year-olds in 18 countries, U.S. students scored in the middle of the pack on basic questions about savings, bank accounts and credit/debit cards, and weighing risks and rewards in deciding how to spend their dollars. The ranking of U.S. students in the new assessment is consistent with the nation’s stagnant performance on the most recent PISA for math and reading—two skills that track closely with financial literacy.

PD: Smart Homes Are Creepy

PD: Smart Homes Are Creepy

“The dwellings of the future will make you calmer, safer, richer and healthier,” Time’s cover assured me, soothingly. But taking my head out of the tech press and reading such a broad, consumer level cover-all of the smarter home, I was nagged by the thought that a modern surveillance state isn’t so much being forced on us, as it is sold to us device by device, with the idea that it is for our benefit. Today, where we live, work and shop, who we know and communicate with and what we watch is already in play. With the smart home and its inevitable link into whatever wearable technology eventually becomes popular, we’ll be giving over data on what time we get home, what the climate is inside and outside our home, our diet, weight and hygiene habits, where we are in the house at any given moment, the actual time we go to bed, what lights we like to have turned on and what resources we consume. Calmer, safer, richer and healthier? Try, quantified, coddled, surveilled, and monetized.

NYT: NASA Satellite to Track Carbon

NYT: NASA Satellite to Track Carbon

On an average day, some 100 million tons of carbon dioxide is liberated from oil and coal by combustion, wafting into the air. Only half of the carbon dioxide stays in the atmosphere; the other half falls back to earth. While scientists know what happens to half of that half — it dissolves into the oceans — the rest is a continuing puzzle. Now NASA is launching a satellite to help solve the puzzle.

MIT: Neuroscience’s New Toolbox

MIT: Neuroscience’s New Toolbox

Optogenetics has provided a much more detailed view of the hypothalamus, and thus a much more complex and nuanced picture of aggression. Activating specific neurons in that little town can tip an organism to make war, but activating the neurons next door can nudge it to make love. The new techniques will give scientists the first glimpses of how thoughts, feelings, forebodings, and dysfunctional mental activity arise from the neural circuitry and from the activity of particular types of cells.

FA: Powering the Pentagon

FA: Powering the Pentagon

The benefits of the Pentagon’s drive for energy efficiency go well beyond improving the U.S military’s energy security and lowering its costs. Through coordination and technology transfers with the private sector, the effort to create a more energy-efficient and secure fighting force could also stimulate innovation beyond the military and help reduce the carbon footprint of many businesses.

MIT: Robots Running This Way

MIT: Robots Running This Way

If their mobility can be improved, then these robots, and others like them, might stride out of research laboratories and populate the world with smart mobile machines. That helps explain why a few days before the DARPA Challenge, Boston Dynamics was acquired by Google.

MIT: China’s AI Effort

MIT: China’s AI Effort

Artificial intelligence is guided by the far-off goal of having software match humans at important tasks. After seeing results from a new field called deep learning, which involves processing large quantities of data using simulated networks of millions of interconnected neurons, some experts have come to believe that this goal isn’t so distant after all.

BBC: Antarctic Ice Losses Double

BBC: Antarctic Ice Losses Double

Antarctica is now losing about 160 billion tonnes of ice a year to the ocean – twice as much as when the continent was last surveyed. The new assessment comes from Europe’s Cryosat spacecraft, which has a radar instrument specifically designed to measure the shape of the ice sheet.

FA: Killer Robots

FA: Killer Robots

Offensive “Terminator-style” autonomous robots that are programmed to kill could soon escape Hollywood science fiction and become reality. This actual rise of the machines raises important strategic, moral, and legal questions about whether the international community should empower robots to kill.

NYT: Peril of Knowledge

NYT: Peril of Knowledge

Thanks to advances in technology, we may soon revisit a question raised four centuries ago: Are there things we should try not to know? That’s because the collection of data is increasing, in both scale and type, at a phenomenal rate.

PS: Mismeasure of Technology

PS: Mismeasure of Technology

When something upsets a beneficent natural order, humans crave for stories featuring some malign force. But often governments embrace the goal of shared growth and yet fail to achieve it. If technology is just devices and ideas, what is holding them back? The problem is that a key component of technology is knowhow,

SC: One Thing to Remember on Earth Day

SC: One Thing to Remember on Earth Day

We cannot succeed if we define ourselves solely by the things that we’re against. We must be just as effective, creative, and tenacious at identifying and establishing the positive solutions we do want to see. If we don’t articulate a vision for a prosperous society powered by clean energy, then the only “optimistic” perspective is to deny reality and bury one’s head in the sand. And that’s a dangerous thing to do when the seas are rising. So here’s what I want everyone to remember this Earth Day: The world is a wonderful place. In just 90 minutes, enough sunlight strikes this planet to provide our planet’s entire energy needs for one year. The contiguous United States has enough potential wind energy to provide all of our nation’s electricity — nine times over. Renewable energy has become economically competitive faster than anyone imagined just a few years ago — in many places it is already beating all fossil fuels and nuclear power on price alone. Got it? Now, make like Muir and spread the word!

NYT: Game of Drones

NYT: Game of Drones

Given the privacy breaches of Google and Facebook, and their collusion with N.S.A. spying, we can be forgiven for some skepticism about what happens when the omnivorous and omniscient tech behemoths acquire the extra-judicial killing machines. Can we really trust Google, who stole millions of the world’s books and whose Street View vehicles secretly scooped up data around the world, with drones?

NYT: Ideas As Property

NYT: Ideas As Property

The big story in Silicon Valley these days is a class-action lawsuit alleging that several major tech companies, including Google and Apple, agreed not to try to hire away one another’s employees – thereby hindering workers from seeking out better-paying jobs. But do-not-hire agreements are not the only way that corporations are taking control of their employees’ intellectual capital. With more corporations demanding that employees pre-assign their intellectual property, there has been a steady decrease in inventor-owned patents. The effects of giving up future control over one’s own skills and products of the mind are significant. In a world in which economic growth depends on innovation, we cannot afford such limitations on creativity.

FA: America’s Energy Edge

FA: America’s Energy Edge

The United States is now poised to become an energy superpower. As U.S. production continues to increase, it will put downward pressure on global oil and gas prices, thereby diminishing the geopolitical leverage that some energy suppliers have wielded for decades

B: US Wind Power

B: US Wind Power

Wind was responsible for 4.8 percent of America’s electricity used in January. That’s the highest January total ever, breaking the record from last January. In many areas of the country wind has reached an important tipping point: becoming cheaper than coal and natural gas.

TG: Children’s Hyperactivity

TG: Children’s Hyperactivity

One of the world’s leading neuroscientists has suggested that attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is not a real disease. Clinicians are too readily prescribing psychostimulants to children. Animal studies have raised concerns over the potential for damage to be done.

NYT: Climate Risk

NYT: Climate Risk

Climate change is already having sweeping effects on every continent and throughout the world’s oceans, scientists reported on Monday, and they warned that the problem was likely to grow substantially worse unless greenhouse emissions are brought under control.

TD: The Data Snatchers

TD: The Data Snatchers

By 2020 there could be over 30 billion devices connected to the Internet. Once dumb, they will have smartened up thanks to sensors and other technologies embedded in them and, thanks to your machines, your life will quite literally have gone online. Techno-evangelists have a nice catchphrase for this future utopia of machines and the never-ending stream of information, known as Big Data, it produces: the Internet of Things. With the rise of the networked device, what people do in their homes, in their cars, in stores, and within their communities will be monitored and analyzed in ever more intrusive ways by corporations. Yes, imagine it. Welcome to a world where everything you do is collected, stored, analyzed, and, more often than not, packaged and sold to strangers — including government agencies.

MIT: Sharing Cascades

MIT: Sharing Cascades

There is much interest in finding out how to predict something that is likely to be popular compared to something that is not. It’s easy to think that predicting the popularity of content is almost impossible because it depends on so many factors that are difficult to measure, but various characteristics of a cascade can be predicted with remarkable accuracy and that this can be used to make successful judgments about the future.

BBC: Cosmic Inflation

BBC: Cosmic Inflation

Scientists say they have extraordinary new evidence to support a Big Bang Theory for the origin of the Universe. The breakthrough was announced by an American team that has been using a telescope at the South Pole to make detailed observations of a small patch of sky. The aim has been to try to find a residual marker for “inflation” – the idea that the cosmos experienced an exponential growth spurt in its first trillionth, of a trillionth of a trillionth of a second. inflation came with a very specific prediction – that it would be associated with waves of gravitational energy, and that these ripples in the fabric of space would leave an indelible mark on the oldest light in the sky -the famous Cosmic Microwave Background. The team says it has now identified that signal.

PS: Innovation Enigma

PS: Innovation Enigma

Around the world, there is enormous enthusiasm for the type of technological innovation symbolized by Silicon Valley. In this view, America’s ingenuity represents its true comparative advantage, which others strive to imitate. But there is a puzzle: it is difficult to detect the benefits of this innovation in GDP statistics.

MIT: Spying Bad for Business

MIT: Spying Bad for Business

The Snowden leaks have painted a U.S.-centric Internet infrastructure, and now people are looking for alternatives. Digital espionage is hastening the trend to secure networks, to isolate them, or even to disconnect. If the Internet and its components cannot be trusted, how will that affect business?

CERES: Clean Energy Investment Gap

CERES: Clean Energy Investment Gap

To have an 80 percent chance of maintaining this 2 °C limit, the IEA estimates an additional $36 trillion in clean energy investment is needed through 2050—or an average of $1 trillion more per year compared to a “business as usual” scenario over the next 36 years.This Ceres report provides 10 recommendations for investors, companies and policymakers.

NYT: Apple’s Shopping List

NYT: Apple’s Shopping List

As fellow tech giants have reached billion-dollar deals in recent years to add significant new arms to their businesses, Apple has ventured down a different path. The company has avoided jaw-dropping takeovers in favor of a series of smaller deals, using the companies to buttress or fill a gap in products that already exist or are in development.

BBC: Maths as Beauty

BBC: Maths as Beauty

Mathematicians were shown “ugly” and “beautiful” equations while in a brain scanner at University College London. The same emotional brain centres used to appreciate art were being activated by “beautiful” maths. The researchers suggest there may be a neurobiological basis to beauty.

GAO: Nanomanufacturing

GAO: Nanomanufacturing

As research continues and other nations increasingly invest in R&D, nanotechnology is moving from the laboratory to commercial markets, mass manufacturing, and the global marketplace–a trend with potential future import that some compare to history’s introduction of technologies with major economic and societal impact, such as plastics and even electricity.

MIT: Quantum Teleportation

MIT: Quantum Teleportation

Quantum teleportation is the ability to transmit from one location to another without traveling through the space in between. Matter itself doesn’t make this journey, only the information that describes it. This is transmitted to a new body that takes on the identity of the original.

BP: Cosmic Accident

BP: Cosmic Accident

If the multiverse idea is correct, then the historic mission of physics to explain all the properties of our universe in terms of fundamental principles — to explain why the properties of our universe must necessarily be what they are — is futile, a beautiful philosophical dream that simply isn’t true.

SM: Tar Sands Pollution

SM: Tar Sands Pollution

A new study, published today in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, shows that production in the Athabasca oil sands region is leading to the emission of levels of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) two to three orders of magnitude higher—that’s one hundred to one thousand times greater—than previously thought.

MIT: Power to Decide

MIT: Power to Decide

MIT Technology Review explores a big question: how are data and the analytical tools to manipulate it changing decision making today? The number of variables and the speed and volume of transactions are just too much for human decision makers. Todays smart systems, and their impact, are prosaic next to what’s planned.

RE: Google Buys DeepMind

RE: Google Buys DeepMind

Google Inc has agreed to acquire artificial intelligence company DeepMind Technologies Ltd. which uses general-purpose learning algorithms for applications such as simulations, e-commerce and games. Google has become increasingly focused on artificial intelligence in recent years.

AN: Obama Gifts Big Coal

AN: Obama Gifts Big Coal

Clean coal is an essential component of the President’s ‘All of the Above’ energy strategy, but on the heels of the West Virginia coal-cleaning chemical disaster, amid record climate disruptions and drought and flooding, Obama’s billion dollar bonus to Big Coal might signal “game over” for clean energy and climate initiatives in Illinois.

TG: Vast Desert Solar Farms

TG: Vast Desert Solar Farms

Utility-sized solar plants are beginning to appear across the US, with 232 under construction, in testing or granted permits, many in the south-west and California. In the west, ample sun, wide-open spaces, financial incentives, falling costs and state mandates have made big solar plants possible.

TG: Geo-Engineering is Insane

TG: Geo-Engineering is Insane

We are already engaged in a planet-wide experiment with consequences we can already tell are unpleasant for the future of humanity. So the hubris involved in thinking we can come up with a second planet-wide experiment that would exactly counteract the first experiment is delusional in the extreme.

FA: Good Enough Global Governance

FA: Good Enough Global Governance

The future will see not the renovation or the construction of a glistening new international architecture but the continued spread of an unattractive but adaptable multilateral sprawl that delivers a partial measure of international cooperation through a welter of informal arrangements and piecemeal approaches. The furious pace of technological change risks leaving global governance in the dust.

WP: NSA Quantum Computer

WP: NSA Quantum Computer

The National Security Agency is racing to build a computer that could break nearly every kind of encryption used to protect banking, medical, business and government records around the world. The effort to build “a cryptologically useful quantum computer” is part of a $79.7 million research program titled “Penetrating Hard Targets.”

NC: Algae Into Oil

NC: Algae Into Oil

U.S. scientists believe they may have cracked one of the great biofuel conundrums. They have turned a thick soup of algae into a mix of crude oil, gas, water and plant nutrients in less than an hour. That is, they have taken 60 minutes to do what Nature does—at great pressures and temperatures—over millions of years.

MIT: 2013 Top Tech Reads

MIT: 2013 Top Tech Reads

MIT Technology Review looks back at leading stories from 2013 including stories related to the pricing of drugs by pharmaceutical and biotech companies, the danger of increased information gathering by governments and companies, the internet and free speech, the effect on jobs of automation, artificial intelligence, and advanced software, the creation of treatments for erasing traumatic memories, the future of driverless cars, the reinvention of the computer chip, saving Wikipedia, and the necessity for genetic engineering in crops.

DS: NSA Hacking Unit

DS: NSA Hacking Unit

The NSA’s TAO hacking unit is considered to be the intelligence agency’s top secret weapon. It maintains its own covert network, infiltrates computers around the world and even intercepts shipping deliveries to plant back doors in electronics ordered by those it is targeting.

PD: Google Surveillance Problem

PD: Google Surveillance Problem

Private sector companies like Google run hi-tech spying operations that vacuum up private information and use it to compile detailed dossiers on hundreds of millions of people around the world — and that’s on top of their work colluding and contracting with government intelligence agencies. Silicon Valley runs on for-profit surveillance that dwarfs anything being run by the NSA.

NYT: Surveillance Cosy or Chilling

NYT: Surveillance Cosy or Chilling

Last year, two literal-minded Supreme Court justices were considering whether police officers needed a warrant before placing a GPS tracking device on a suspect’s S.U.V. when they ended up having a rather fanciful argument: What would the founding fathers make of a GPS device, anyway?

NYT: Selling ADHD

NYT: Selling ADHD

The rise of A.D.H.D. diagnoses and prescriptions for stimulants over the years coincided with a remarkably successful two-decade campaign by pharmaceutical companies to publicize the syndrome and promote the pills to doctors, educators and parents. With the children’s market booming, the industry is now employing similar marketing techniques as it focuses on adult A.D.H.D., which could become even more profitable.

LL: Technology and Human Behaviour

LL: Technology and Human Behaviour

Since technology is created by humans, and built on, for example, economic or financial principles which have been derived by humans, we have the potential to over-estimate fatally the perfection of technology. Technology is only ever as good as the insight, experience and knowledge embedded in it. Wilful blindness can be embedded inside algorithms as algorithms contain assumptions. As they become more complex, being able to see what they assume and what they ignore becomes increasingly difficult.

FA: Policing Synthetic Biology

FA: Policing Synthetic Biology

Ongoing research and discoveries in the life sciences — the latest and most promising involving synthetic biology — have led to extraordinary advances that will benefit society. But criminals and terrorists could manipulate such advances to disrupt public safety and national security.

BBC: Genetic Memory

BBC: Genetic Memory

Behaviour can be affected by events in previous generations which have been passed on through a form of genetic memory, animal studies suggest. Experiments showed that a traumatic event could affect the DNA in sperm and alter the brains and behaviour of subsequent generations.

MIT: New Solar Material

MIT: New Solar Material

A new solar cell material has properties that might lead to cells more than twice as efficient as the best on the market today. The researchers haven’t yet demonstrated a high-efficiency solar cell based on the material. But their work adds to a growing body of evidence suggesting that perovskite materials could change the face of solar power.

SA: Smartphones Killing Us

SA: Smartphones Killing Us

What permanent connectivity does to our minds is the subject of great debate. What it does to public space is less often acknowledged. Some restaurants, bars and coffee shops have banned smartphones and computers for their corrosive social effects. Anti-technology zoning for cognitive health to protect us from our own worst instincts is a more complex challenge.

PS: Is Economics a Science?

PS: Is Economics a Science?

One problem with economics is that it is necessarily focused on policy, rather than discovery of fundamentals. Nobody really cares much about economic data except as a guide to policy: economic phenomena do not have the same intrinsic fascination for us as the internal resonances of the atom or the functioning of the vesicles and other organelles of a living cell. Critics of “economic sciences” sometimes refer to the development of a “pseudoscience” of economics, arguing that it uses the trappings of science, like dense mathematics, but only for show. As economics develops, it will broaden its repertory of methods and sources of evidence, the science will become stronger, and the charlatans will be exposed.

TE: The Recorded World

TE: The Recorded World

A huge, looming issue is the growing sophistication of face-recognition technologies. We may not be far from a world in which your movements could be tracked all the time, where a stranger walking down the street can immediately identify exactly who you are. The fight should start now. Otherwise, in the blink of an eye, privacy could be gone.

NG: Wise Old Whooping Cranes

NG: Wise Old Whooping Cranes

People have pondered the question for centuries: How do migrating birds find their way between far-flung breeding and wintering grounds? Do they have some genetic GPS to steer them along time-honored routes? Or do they learn the way from parents or elders in the flocks? New research shows that, at least in the case of whooping cranes, the birds do learn the route from their older and more experienced companions—and all of them get better at navigating with age and experience. Detailed whooper migration data is a silver lining to a near-tragedy. America’s whooping cranes were within a whisper of extinction during the mid-20th century, when as few as 16 individuals survived. Only a large-scale, international captive breeding and conservation effort enabled the species to survive—and ultimately made this discovery possible.

TE: Unreliable Research

TE: Unreliable Research

The idea that there are a lot of uncorrected flaws in published studies may seem hard to square with the fact that almost all of them will have been through peer-review. This sort of scrutiny by disinterested experts is often said to make the scientific literature particularly reliable. In practice it is poor at detecting many types of error.

GAO: Pesticide Registration Problems

GAO: Pesticide Registration Problems

EPA does not have a reliable system, such as an automated data system, to track key information related to conditional registrations of pesticides, including whether companies have submitted additional data within required time frames. As a result, pesticides with conditional registrations could be marketed for years without EPA’s receipt and review of these data.

DS: Europe Gone Wild

DS: Europe Gone Wild

A group of scientists led by Dutch conservation expert Frans Schepers has launched a unique experiment centered on the return of the large grazing animals and predators that populated the Continent long ago. The scientists expect the greatest possible diversity of species to develop around the spectacular mammals, including insects, vultures, toads and snakes — all the kinds of animals that were once forced out of their habitats by human activity.

TE: Multiplexed Metropolis

TE: Multiplexed Metropolis

As they go about their business of producing most of the world’s wealth, novelty and human interaction, cities also produce a vast amount of data. The people who run cities are ever more keen on putting those data to work. Hardly a week passes without a mayor somewhere in the world unveiling a “smart-city” project—often at one of the many conferences hailing the concept.

MIT: Data Discrimination

MIT: Data Discrimination

Data analytics are being used to implement a subtle form of discrimination, while anonymous data sets can be mined to reveal health data and other private information. Principle Microsoft researcher, Kate Crawford, and a colleague propose a system of “due process” that would give people more legal rights to understand how data analytics are used in determinations made against them, such as denial of health insurance or a job.

TG: The Snowden Files

TG: The Snowden Files

Novelist John Lancaster, given access to the Snowden Files, discusses his impressions. At a moment of austerity and with a general sense that our state’s ability to guarantee prosperity for its citizens is in retreat, that same state is about to make the biggest advance ever in its security powers. Our spies and security services can, for the first time, monitor everything about us, and they can do so with a few clicks of a mouse and – to placate the lawyers – a drop-down menu of justifications. Looking at the GCHQ papers, it is clear that there is an ambition to get access to everything digital. And yet nobody, at least in Britain, seems to care. Snowden’s revelations are not just interesting or important but vital, because the state is about to get powers that no state has ever had, and we need to have a public debate about those powers and what their limits are to be.

HP: Exceptionalism and California

HP: Exceptionalism and California

Conservatives who love to brag about American exceptionalism must come here to California, and see it in person. And then they should be afraid — very afraid. Because while the rest of the country is beset by stories of right-wing takeovers in places like North Carolina, Texas and Wisconsin, California is going in the opposite direction and creating the kind of modern, liberal nation the country as a whole can only dream about.

HP: Tech is Killing Eye Contact

HP: Tech is Killing Eye Contact

As we spend more and more of our time staring at screens, there’s less time left over to look into people’s eyes. The growth of multitasking on mobile devices and remote working have normalized the experience of having conversations with little or no eye contact. These interactions aren’t just what previous generations would have considered rude, they’re also undermining our ability to connect with the people in our lives.

NYT: Not an End to Warming

NYT: Not an End to Warming

The pause in global warming is consistent with numerous prior pauses. When walking up stairs in a tall building, it is a mistake to interpret a landing as the end of the climb. The slow rate of warming of the recent past is consistent with the kind of variability that some of us predicted nearly a decade ago.

MIT: Cryptographers and Ethics

MIT: Cryptographers and Ethics

It looks as if the code-breakers at the National Security Agency—and possibly the academics that often assist them—are in clear, dramatic breach of their own profession’s code of conduct that requires honesty and trustworthiness and respect of others’ privacy. Snowden, the NSA whistleblower made his own “moral decision to tell the public about spying that affects us all.”

NYT: Drug Agents’ Data Trove

NYT: Drug Agents’ Data Trove

For at least six years, law enforcement officials working on a counternarcotics program have had routine access, using subpoenas, to an enormous AT&T database that contains the records of decades of Americans’ phone calls — parallel to but covering a far longer time than the National Security Agency’s hotly disputed collection of phone call logs.

NYT: Complexity is Free

NYT: Complexity is Free

It’s easy to be depressed about America these days. We’ve got messes aplenty abroad and the Republican-dominated House of Representatives is totally paralyzed. Fortunately, there is another, still “exceptional,” American reality out there. It’s best found at the research centers of any global American company.

BBC: Arctic Ice Decline

BBC: Arctic Ice Decline

The volume of sea ice in the Arctic hit a new low this past winter, according to observations from the European Space Agency’s (Esa) Cryosat mission. In its three years of full operations, Cryosat has witnessed a continuing shrinkage of winter ice volume. It underlines, say scientists, the long-term decline of the floes.

Economist: Government and Innovation

Economist: Government and Innovation

The state has played a central role in producing game-changing breakthroughs, its contribution to the success of technology-based businesses should not be underestimated. There are many reasons why policymakers must modernise the state and bring entitlements under control. But one of the most important is that a well-run state is a vital part of a successful innovation system.

New Yorker: Neuro-Skeptics

New Yorker: Neuro-Skeptics

Writers on the brain and the mind tend to divide into Spocks and Kirks. For the past decade, at least, the Spocks have been running the Enterprise. Myths depend on balance and so we have on our hands a sudden and severe Kirkist backlash. A series of new books all present watch-and-ward arguments designed to show that brain science promises much and delivers little.

NoC: GM Insects

NoC: GM Insects

Just when you thought genetically modified mosquitoes and mutated dinner entrees were the extent of biotech’s hunger to manipulate the genetic coding of the planet, scientists have now unleashed a plan to launch thousands of ‘frankenfly’ style insects into the wild in order to combat pests.

NYT: NSA War on Encryption

NYT: NSA War on Encryption

The National Security Agency is winning its long-running secret war on encryption, using supercomputers, technical trickery, court orders and behind-the-scenes persuasion to undermine the major tools protecting the privacy of everyday communications in the Internet age, according to newly disclosed documents.

Guardian: NSA Collects Everything

Guardian: NSA Collects Everything

A top secret National Security Agency program allows analysts to search with no prior authorization through vast databases containing emails, online chats and the browsing histories of millions of individuals. The NSA boasts in training materials that the program, called XKeyscore, is its “widest-reaching” system for developing intelligence from the internet.

Reuters: Facebook Facial Recognition

Reuters: Facebook Facial Recognition

Facebook Inc is considering incorporating most of its 1 billion-plus members’ profile photos into its growing facial recognition database, expanding the scope of the social network’s controversial technology. Facial recognition technology has been a sensitive issue for technology companies, raising concerns among some privacy advocates and government officials.

MIT: 80 MPG Hybrid

MIT: 80 MPG Hybrid

Researchers at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich have developed an ultra-efficient new engine that runs on a combination of natural gas and diesel. When combined with a battery and electric motor to make a hybrid vehicle, it could allow a car to get the equivalent of 80 miles per gallon, the researchers say.

Economist: Neuromorphic Computing

Economist: Neuromorphic Computing

Computing technology is being designed to mimic the human brain. Developers hope that they will achieve both better functioning computers and a better understanding of how the brain works. They wish to instill in computers three traits of the brain in particular – the ability to run on low amounts of power, the ability to withstand and overcome faults, and the ability to learn and change spontaneously. Efforts are being made on both sides of the Atlantic, and while the most advanced programs are in Europe the US is not far behind. One potential repercussion of these computing developments is particularly noteworthy – if the scientists succeed, there is the possibility that machines will develop to have higher thinking capacities than human beings, to the extent that they may be able, eventually, to keep human beings as pets – just as a human might keep a monkey.

Economist: Mass Extinctions

Economist: Mass Extinctions

The idea that an impact caused the Permian extinction has been around for a while. But the abruptness of the extinctions indicates the coup de grâce was administered by something else, and that something was an asteroid or a comet causing a huge burp of methane into the atmosphere making things too hot for much of the planet’s animal life.

AlterNet: Brink of Catastrophe

AlterNet: Brink of Catastrophe

The later twentieth and early twenty-first century may be noteworthy for two intertwined phenomena: computers and digital technology, which have decentralized power in some ways, while concentrating it in others, and the next phase in the development of nonviolent, direct-action, people-powered movements, the recent leaderless rebellions.

Economist: Future of Transport

Economist: Future of Transport

Elon Musk proposes to revive an old science-fiction idea called the vac-train (short for “vacuum train”), albeit with a few important tweaks. The Hyperloop would carry passengers across California at more than 1,200kph—faster than a jet airliner—allowing them to zoom between San Francisco and Los Angeles in little over half an hour.

NYT: Facial Scanning & Surveillance

NYT: Facial Scanning & Surveillance

The federal government is making progress on developing a surveillance system that would pair computers with video cameras to scan crowds and automatically identify people by their faces – now is the time for the government to establish oversight rules and limits on how it will someday be used.

NoC: Bee-Killing Pesticides

NoC: Bee-Killing Pesticides

It is estimated over 10 million beehives been wiped out since 2007, as part of a phenomenon known as Colony Collapse Disorder. Two Congressional Democrats have co-sponsored new legislation called the Save America’s Pollinators Act of 2013 to take emergency action to save the remaining bees in the U.S., and in turn, the U.S. food supply.

Rob Hopkins: Environmentalist

Rob Hopkins: Environmentalist

Rob Hopkins is an independent activist and writer on environmental issues, based in Totnes, England. He is best known as the founder and figurehead of the Transition Townsmovement. In 2007, he co-founded the Transition Network, a charity designed to support the many Transition initiatives emerging around the world.

Ian Goldin: Economist

Ian Goldin: Economist

Ian Andrew Goldin is Director of the Oxford Martin School at the University of Oxford – the leading global scholarly centre of deep research into a broad range of future challenges. The School research faculty is seeking to find solutions to questions of health and medicine, energy and the environment, technology and society and ethics and governance.

Sean Carroll: Physicist

Sean Carroll: Physicist

Sean Carroll is a theoretical physicist at Caltech. He researches theoretical aspects of cosmology, field theory, gravitation, and quantum mechanics, with a particular interest in learning about fundamental physics by studying the structure and evolution of the universe. He is especially interested in inflation, the arrow of time, and how quantum mechanics intersects with cosmology.

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