This shouldn’t really come as a surprise to anyone. Last time you got on public transportation, what was everyone doing? Hell, last time you walked down the street or drove in your car, you probably noticed that everyone was talking, texting, or otherwise fiddling with a cell phone or gadget. We’ve become connected to our devices to the extent that we can’t live (or use the bathroom, or sleep) without them, which is part of the reason the Supreme Court recently ruled that police officers can’t search suspects’ cell phones without a warrant. And then there are all of the wearable technologies out there, not to mention implants. According to the Brookings Institution, “a process of cyborgization is taking place,” which means, among other things, that we need to figure out how to regulate this technology and adjust and create new laws accordingly.
For a while now, debates have been raging about artificial sweeteners and sugar substitutes. As ubiquitous as Splenda, Equal, and aspartame have become, some studies have indicated that they actually cause weight gain (and Stevia has been known to cause the death of certain annoying television characters as well). Now, a controversial new study from the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, Israel has concluded that artificial sweeteners may actually increase one’s risk of diabetes, as well as negatively affect microbes in the stomach.
The human gut, and the microbes and bacteria living there, are more complicated than one might think. They’re responsible for delivering the nutrients in foods, and may also be linked to thinness and/or obesity; they may also affect our moods and mental states. Suffice it to say, there’s a lot more going on in our guts than simple digestion. Scientists at the Weizmann Institute published the results of an experiment they conducted to test the effects of artificial sweeteners — in this case, aspartame (used in Equal), sucralose (the sweetest of the three, used in Splenda), and saccharin (used in Sweet ‘n Low).
Cephalopods (octopi, squid, and cuttlefish) are nature’s sneakiest animals, which is why scientists have long used them as a model for developing robots. Cephalopods have an uncanny ability to camouflage themselves, changing color, shape, and texture in a matter of seconds to hide from predators. A few years ago, DARPA developed a tethered robot that could change color, and now, a research team led by an MIT professor have developed a material that more closely emulates the cephalopod by changing color, luminosity, and texture.
SpaceX will be bringing the first 3D printer to space on Friday, delivering it to the ISS. Once it’s up and running, astronauts will be able to print new parts for the station and for repairs, rather than wasting precious space storing spares or having to wait for a supply run.
Private companies such as SpaceX and Orbital Science make cargo delivery runs to the ISS every few months, but every inch of cargo space is valuable. If there’s room, then the additional cost is difficult to calculate and depends on the size and mass of the parts being delivered. Generally, though, it costs anywhere from $3,000-$13,000 per kilogram to send objects into low Earth orbit (depending on the rocket and its manufacturer). So the only question regarding having a 3D printer on the ISS is, what took them so long?
Remember 20 years ago when kids fighting over expensive shoes was almost a way of life? We’re entering a strange time in our culture where there may soon be similar battles, only with Back to the Future at the center of it all. Though there is a more decadent pair of light-up sneakers coming next year, you can now get the jump on owning your very own pair of Marty McFly’s most famous footwear. Hoverboard sadly not included.
Let’s get a few things clear right away. Unlike the power-laced shoes in the film, these don’t have power laces and they aren’t made by Nike, and they aren’t actually shoes. (Just kidding about that last part.) On the bright side, they are officially licensed by Universal Studios Licensing, so it’s not like some guy is selling them out of the back of his DeLorean or anything. Just don’t expect to see the swoosh symbol on the sides. Maybe you can add it yourself with a marker.
Isaac Asimov’s first law of robotics is that a robot can’t harm a human or allow a human to come to harm. The purpose behind the law is to avert robot apocalypse scenarios and generally assuage people’s fear of artificial life. The problem with the law, though, is implementation. Robots don’t speak English—how would one code or program such a law, especially given how vague the notion of harm is? Does taking jobs from humans constitute harm? In Asimov’s short story “Liar,” a mind-reading robot realizes that harm can also be emotional, and lies to humans to avoid hurting their feelings, which of course only harms them more in the long run. All of this raises the bigger issue of whether robots can be programmed or taught to behave ethically, which is the subject of debate among roboticists. A recent experiment conducted by Alan Winfield of the UK’s Bristol Robotics Laboratory sheds some light on this question, and raises a new question: do we really want our robots to try and be ethical?
The experiment revolved around a task designed to exemplify Asimov’s first law. Only instead of interacting with humans, the robot subject interacted with robot substitutes. But the rule remained the same—the study robot, A, was programmed to move toward a goal at the opposite end of the table, and to “save” any of the human substitute bots (h-robots) if at all possible as they moved toward a hole.