Artificial intelligence and automation are a source of palpable anxiety in our culture. Exciting technological advances are mingled with op-eds, statistics and predictions about negative implications for future employment: what will work and career opportunities look like in a future where computers learn, repair themselves and even come up with new solutions?

Futurist Thomas Frey gave a TED talk in which he predicted 2 billion jobs would disappear by 2030--but don’t be alarmed! He believes new jobs will be created in tandem with these losses, resulting in a net balance. Driverless car operating system engineers will replace taxi and limo drivers. Construction industry jobs will shift to 3D printer repair technicians. Rather than a lack of jobs, Frey suggests that “our challenge will be to upgrade our workforce to match the labor demand of the coming era.”

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[DIGEST: CNN, Science Direct, GizMag]

The United States military has invested millions of dollars to develop an implant that would allow us to plug computers directly into our brains. Or looking at it another way: an implant that would allow us to plug our brains directly into computers. The end game is some kind of socket or wireless communication chip that could transmit information in either direction: machines would transmit experiences, such as touch or vision, directly into our brains; and we would be able to control computerized devices with our thoughts alone.

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[DIGEST: GizmodoPBS, APS Physics]

There is renewed chatter among physicists about a long-awaited discovery that may come some time this year: the observation of gravity waves. The anticipation is like the lead up to the release of The Force Awakens, but for high energy physicists rather than Star Wars fans. What might happen and what will it mean? And the stakes are high. If we can detect gravity waves, we can open the door to new theories about the fundamental nature of the Universe.

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via Flickr user Global Panorama

[DIGEST: New York Times, Washington Post, Hopkins Medicine]

We like to think that disease is simple. Medical researchers and molecular biologists know better, of course, but that rarely filters out into our broader cultural imagination. The popular press is filled with stories about toxins or disease-causing genes because we want simple answers to complicated questions. If there is a gene for cancer, then it’s easy to explain, right? The gene causes the cancer, just like a gene might give you blue eyes or red hair. Toxins are even simpler: if you get poison in your cells, they might die. Nothing could be easier to understand.

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via Flickr user Matt J Newman

[DIGEST: News Daily, The Telegraph, Reuters]

Scientists at the University of Cambridge have designed a robot “mom” that discovers how to build little walking baby robots out of blocks with motors in them. The “mom” robot, shaped like a mechanical arm, is not given any plans or instructions on how to design the children. She starts with a collection of simple cubes containing motors and moving parts, and assembles them into different patterns. She then places each robot on a runway, activates the motors, and watches to see how far it travels. Depending on how they are put together, some of the child robots move farther and faster than others. The “mom” robot then analyzes the configurations that moved the farthest, and uses those structures as a starting point to create a  new “generation” of baby walking robots to activate and test.

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Via Flickr user Jason Hargrove

[DIGEST: Stanford Medicine News, The Guardian]

By year’s end, we may learn whether injecting old people with blood from young people can improve their memory and even reduce the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease. Last year, the Stanford Medicine New Center reported that a team of medical researchers, led by neurologist Dr. Tony Wyss-Coray, infused old mice with blood plasma from younger mice and then examined the subsequent behavior of the old mice and any ensuing changes in their brain structure. After the “young blood” infusion, the older mice showed marked improvement in both learning and memory tests, and a detailed analysis of their brain structure showed changes in the hippocampus--the area of the brain responsible for memory--that suggested improved activity and nerve regeneration.

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A dramatic open letter was unveiled at The International Joint Conference on Artificial Intelligence (IJCAI) last month, signed by a number of high-profile scientists and technological pioneers – including Stephen Hawking, Elon Musk and Steve Wozniak – pleading with the powers of the world to ban autonomous war machines driven by artificial intelligence (A.I.), more prosaically known as “killer robots.”

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