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Research Reveals Americans’ Feelings About Futuristic Technology

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droneI teach, think, and write a lot about the technology of the future, and the implications of that technology. I often worry that people accept the evils of technology without thinking carefully enough about it — i.e., spying, other privacy invasions, and hacking — and that Aldous Huxley’s fear that we’ll be “caught by surprise by our advancing technology” will indeed come to fruition. But recent Pew research indicates that Americans might be a little more skeptical about futuristic technology than I thought.

Just as we’ve experienced great technological leaps in the past few decades, we’ll continue to advance technologically at breakneck, if not exponential, speed. The Pew Research Center wanted to see how Americans feel about what’s coming down the pike, and what technologies they predict will actually come to fruition in the next 50 years. Their research shows that 59% of respondents believe the coming technology will impact society in a positive way. I’m not sure if that number indicates optimism or naivete, or perhaps a little bit of both. Thirty percent of respondents think the coming technological changes will make life worse. Are they pessimists or Luddites? Maybe a bit of both.

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The Navy’s New Railgun Blows The Hell Out Of Everything

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You may be familiar with the concept of railguns. They play a big part in a number of popular video games, but as far as real world applications, views have been rather limited. Until now. This video shows the latest incarnation of the much-hyped weapon just blowing the holy hell out of all sorts of stuff, and it is pretty awesome, and potentially the future of military weapons technology.

On a conceptual level, railguns sound pretty simple. Powered by electricity, they launch a projectile a at speeds exceeding mach 7, which, believe it or not, is not an easy thing to accomplish. A new article in Foreign Policy details the development. Because of the various hurdles, many in the military industrial complex have doubted that the weapons will ever become practical and widespread, but that view seems to be changing.

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Bacteria Turns Plants Into Zombies

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witches' broom

Witches’ broom are indications of parasites

We all know how to turn people into zombies: just give them boring, 9-5 jobs (or worse, 8-6, 7-7, etc) that don’t require them to use their brains at all and thus turn them into the shuffling, vacant-eyed folks that appear in Shaun of the Dead even before the undead start snacking on them. Animals can become zombies too, when under the control of bodysnatching parasites. Now, scientists have learned that bacteria can work their zombie mojo on plants, too.

A team of scientists from Norwich, UK’s John Innes Centre published research in PLOS Biology that describes how phytoplasmas, parasitic bacteria that wreak havoc on the likes of sugarcane and coconut, take over plants and make them do all sorts of things they otherwise wouldn’t. Flowers become shoots, petals change color, and the plant sends up the telltale “witches’ broom” shoots. As the parasite takes hold, the host becomes incapable of reproducing. Insects descend on these new shoots, transmitting the bacteria to make new zombies. They don’t even have to bite anything. The report points out that for all intents and purposes, the plant is dead, living on bacterial life support.

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Scientists Discover Earth-Sized Exoplanet That Could Support Life

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planetEach second that goes by is another step towards a great discovery, even when there’s a big huge jerk distance of 490 light years that makes the discoveries almost impossible. For the first time ever, scientists have identified an exoplanet that is both Earth-sized and within the habitable zone of its star, making it a prime candidate to produce life. Now all we need to do is build an autonomous drone that looks exactly like Michael Fassbender and get the hell over there. Oh yeah, the 490 light years.

You won’t soon be forgetting the name of Kepler-186f, which just became our best chance of finding someone else in the universe, though it probably won’t happen anytime even relatively soon. It’s going to take another generation or two of space telescopes before we reach the capability of getting a really good look at the exoplanet. With the Kepler telescope no longer functioning properly, there’s no chance of further study at this point, unless of course Kepler-186f’s inhabitants start waving around some extremely large semaphore flags. But let’s not focus on the negative.

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This Skateboard Is Trash. Literally.

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bureoEveryone knows pollution is a major problem, both in the air and the water. Scientists such as Dean Kamen, who brought his water purification system on the Colbert Report, have been working on solutions, but some of the more innovative approaches come from non-scientists, such as the three entrepreneurs who take trash collected in Chilean waters and turn it into skateboards.

The three founders of Bureo are skateboarding and surfing aficionados who were concerned about the pollution of the world’s oceans. The seeds of the company took root when they learned that about 10% of the plastic pollution in the oceans is discarded fishing gear, largely made of plastic. At some point, they had an “aha” moment and realized that the surfboards and skateboards they were using could be made out of that plastic.

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Captain Kirk Sends A Letter To Captain Kirk

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William ShatnerWhen you’re born with a name like James Kirk, and rise to the rank of Captain in an advanced, powerful military force, you have a fair amount of responsibility. Odds are that the most familiar Captain Kirk to many of you out there is William Shatner’s iconic starship commander from Gene Roddenberry’s beloved sci-fi series Star Trek. But he’s not the only one. The United States Navy has their very own Captain James Kirk (it’s James A. not James T.), who is about to take over command of the USS Zumwalt, the most advanced destroyer in the fleet. On the eve of his new assignment, he, and his crew, received a congratulatory letter from the man who brought his fictional predecessor to life.

Shatner’s letter is brief, but to the point, and hell, when your middle name is Tiberius, you don’t have time to waste on words. Kirk is a man of action, after all, not a diplomat. The note, which is signed and framed, now hangs at the Bath Iron Works in Bath, Maine, where the ship is being built, though it is expected to find a permanent home on board the Zumwalt.