Tetsuya Lijima from Nissan giving a demonstration around the roads of east London of a prototype Nissan Leaf driverless car. (Photo by Philip Toscano/PA Images via Getty Images)

While designers of autonomous vehicles (AVs) continue their quest to make them safer, the realities of complex roadways call for complex ethical decisions about who lives or dies. To address the technological version of what’s known as the age-old “trolley problem,” a worldwide study asked questions such as: if one or more pedestrian is suddenly crossing the road, should the AV be programmed to swerve and risk going off the road with its passengers or hit the people head-on?

Most respondents objectively lean toward protecting the greatest number of people, but also show a reluctance to ride in an AV that doesn’t guarantee protection for its passengers as priority number one.

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Screenshot: Kitty Hawk "Cora"

If you’ve ever watched the 1960s futuristic cartoon The Jetsons, you’ve seen Google co-founder Larry Page’s basic vision for flying taxis. It takes off and lands like a helicopter and flies horizontally with a passenger on board—except George Jetson still had to steer. After several years of quiet development, Page has unveiled the self-driving, electric prototype in New Zealand and plans to bring service-for-hire to the public.

Behind the Curtain of the Secret Flying Taxi

Page, now CEO of Google’s parent company, Alphabet, is operating this project by personally financing a company called Kitty Hawk. The company is working to improve the prototype of autonomous flying vehicles, known as Cora, so people could rent similar vehicles for transport.

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Screenshot via YouTube.

As cars with more autonomous capability make their way to the road, Nissan is seeking to capture the attention of those people who aren’t ready to let go of their steering wheels. Its Brain-to-Vehicle model—which uses an electroencephalography (EEG) cap to connect driver to car—claims to anticipate and accelerate the driver’s reactions, creating an overall improved driving experience. The project also seeks to use information from the cap in self-driving mode, adjusting the environment and ride to better suit the driver’s comfort level.

How Does B2V Work?

While Nissan’s cap gathers raw data from the driver’s brain, the car’s artificial intelligence interprets it. Thus, the name Brain-to-Vehicle or B2V technology.

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Paul Bastean, owner of the Ultimate Defense Firing Range and Training Center in St Peters, Missouri, some 20 miles (32 kilometers) west of Ferguson, arranges a rack of handguns on November 26, 2014. (JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)

In the wake of numerous mass shootings of 2017 and the growing cultural divide in the United States, one study sought to understand the meaning behind guns to their owners. Researchers discovered white men often see guns as a mechanism of empowerment when confronted with economic plight. This subgroup of gun owners tends to carry a particular set of values and policy positions, including insurrectionist tendencies, worth further study.

White men with financial concerns feel empowered by guns

F. Carson Mencken and Paul Froese, professors of sociology from Baylor University, published their study “Gun Culture in Action,” in the journal Social Problems. They used data from the Baylor Religion Survey 2014, to create a “gun empowerment scale.” Through survey questions surrounding gun owners’ feelings about guns, Mencken and Froese sought to assess their emotional and moral attachments to firearms.

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Screenshot via Youtube.

There are more than 21 million people suffering from schizophrenia worldwide. Most commonly associated with hearing hallucinatory voices that threaten and insult, schizophrenia can affect people’s ability to maintain employment or healthy relationships. With 25 percent of symptoms being resistant to traditional therapies, a promising study found people with this condition can reduce or even eliminate their symptoms by talking back to an avatar designed to mimic the voices in their head.

Avatar Therapy

Researchers from King’s College in the UK conducted the first large scale study using avatars to help people with schizophrenia overcome the power of voices in their head. This “avatar therapy”—invented by Prof Julian Leff, from University College London in 2008—uses a computer program to allow patients to design faces for these voices, including details such as race, face shape, skin color, eyebrows, etc. During the session, the therapist sits in another room and uses software to speak, mimicking the voice as indicated by the patient.

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For months, United States diplomats in Cuba have suffered an ongoing range of symptoms from a mysterious source, straining relations between the two governments. The latest diagnosis includes abnormalities to some of the diplomats’ white brain matter, which affects cognitive function, sensory and motor skills. However, this discovery only further divides scientists on the issue of what caused the patients’ symptoms.

Discovery of Damage to White Brain Matter

Since August 2016, American diplomats—and some Canadians—have experienced unusual health problems while stationed at the Cuban Embassy. The symptoms included nausea, dizziness, headaches, difficulty balancing, trouble concentration and recalling words, ringing in the ears, permanent hearing loss, and speech and vision problems. Patients have also been diagnosed with brain injuries such as swelling, concussion, and most recently damage to white brain matter.

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No Pain No Game (Sergey Galyonkin, CC BY-SA)

In October, President Trump finally declared what much of the country has known for a long time: the opioid crisis is a public health emergency. Yet while nearly 100 Americans die from opioid-related deaths each day, chronic pain continues to vex more than 25 million Americans. But the fast-developing world of virtual reality (VR) technology is providing relief to patients in clinical trials, hospitals, and soon in our own homes. This growing industry of pain-relieving VR may be at least part of the solution to the opioid epidemic—without the addictive, potentially fatal side effects.

How VR Reduces Pain

The first successful experiments using VR to control pain, conducted in 1996, focused on the acute pain of burn victims. Particularly during bandage changes, where the patients were not at rest, opioids such as morphine failed to control the intense pain. By the early 2000s, cognitive psychologists Hunter Hoffman and Dave Patterson, of the University of Washington in Seattle, had developed a VR computer game called SnowWorld to help patients ignore pain signals while enjoying the intriguing game scenarios. They placed patients inside a $90,000 unit with an eight-pound helmet linked to a refrigerator-sized computer to play the game.

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