Microsoft President and Chief Legal Officer Brad Smith speaks during the annual Microsoft shareholders meeting in Bellevue, Washington on November 29, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / Jason Redmond

In early July, a New York Times story about how Chinese officials are using facial recognition technology to track down lawbreakers went viral.

The story opened with a short anecdote about a police officer in Zhengzhou who used his special glasses to catch a heroin smuggler. His glasses were powered by artificial intelligence that allowed him to match the faces around him — each of which had been recorded by numerous security cameras around the city — with the face of the perpetrator. People around the world tweeted about the dystopian nature of this use of technology, making the usual jokes about the movie Minority Report. In the U.S., many worried about whether we might be next. As with most viral news stories, this was knocked off the top of the trending list by the next story.

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A couple of months ago I was lounging on my couch watching TV and snacking on Stacy’s Pita Chips. The cinnamon sugar ones are my favorite —they’re just sweet enough to feel like a dessert, but they have a satisfying crunch almost like a potato chip. During a commercial, I started to scroll through Instagram on my phone, and almost immediately I found myself looking at a promoted post for Stacy’s pita chips.

It’s not that strange to see an ad on Instagram these days — in fact, some are so stealthily designed they look like they could be actual posts from friends. But I’d never seen an ad for Stacy’s anywhere that I could remember, let alone on Instagram. And now suddenly I’m eating them and they pop up on my screen.

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Pedestrians wear masks to protect themselves from the pollution on the street, Beijing, China, 20 April 2018. (Long Wei / Barcroft Media via Getty Images)

Every other day, there seems to be new bad news about climate change. Polar bears are struggling to survive. The Arctic is warming even faster than expected. Millions of people may soon be without usable land, leaving them subject to famine and drought. But mixed among these headlines in recent weeks, there was a glimmer of hope, from an unexpected source: China.

China has long been known for dangerous levels of air pollution. Images of the biggest cities often show buildings cloaked in dense smog and people wearing masks to protect themselves from the particulates. It is estimated that more than 1.5 million people die from air pollution-related causes in China each year.  

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Scientific publishing is a tough business. But it can also be a lucrative one, which is why even the esteemed pages of science journals may not always be above the fray. While many legitimate publications dutifully peer-review and edit the work they receive, pirates abound. These so-called predatory journals focus more on the money than the science, and for a researcher desperate to publish, a few hundred dollars and an easy peer-review process might seem too good to pass up.

The controversy has gained increasing attention over the past few years, thanks in large part to sneaky scientists like “BioTrekkie,” also known, to a few journals at least, as Lewis Zimmerman. The anonymous biologist is a pretty big Star Trek fan (if you couldn’t tell from the pseudonym), and he decided to test out whether some of the most notorious predatory journals were as well. The paper he submitted described an “experiment” that would be familiar to anyone who has seen Star Trek: Voyager Episode 32, “Threshold,” in which Lt. Thomas Paris makes an effort to finally break warp 10 speed.

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Most discussion about artificial intelligence centers on the jobs it might take away or other ways it might inadvertently—or purposely—harm humans. But a recent study showed that there’s something simple we can do to foster cooperation between robots and ourselves. All it takes is a little trash talk.

Together with a team of researchers, Jacob Crandall, a computer science professor at Brigham Young University in Utah, created an algorithm that learned to cooperate with humans thanks to chit chat, which Crandall called “cheap talk.”

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Surgeons often use metal pieces such as screws and plates to hold broken bones together. Soon, there may be another, better option: ceramic implants created by 3D printers.

Many researchers have touted the medical promise of additive manufacturing, more commonly known as 3D printing. As the technology has become cheaper and more precise, the medical community has embraced it, creating things like prosthetic limbs, tissue with blood vessels, and even biosynthetic ovaries using 3D printing techniques. Now Hala Zreiqat, a professor of biomedical engineering at the University of Sydney in Australia, has shown the capacity for 3D printed implants to heal broken bones by not just holding them together, but encouraging new bone growth.

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As long as people have been imagining robots, they’ve been imagining sex with robots. Countless science fiction stories, comics, television shows and movies have used this as an overt or underlying theme. For some, this is controversial or even disturbing. But for many, it’s exciting and even potentially a relief.

For a person who longs for a partner but has trouble connecting with other humans, the idea of achieving a satisfying sexual experience, even with a robot partner, can be freeing. But now that this dream has been realized, with several sex robots on the market, it’s clear that some very human problems come with them.

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