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September 25, 2020 4 min
The point at which quantum computers transition from expensive science experiments to a technology that could reshape the future always seems about a decade away. But a new technology roadmap from IBM suggests that timeline might be getting more concrete. Despite hundreds of millions of dollars pouring into the field, today’s quantum computers are still pretty rudimentary. IBM’s largest quantum processors today are 65 qubits—a sh...
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Air travel has plummeted during the pandemic; not only do a lot of people not feel safe being in airports or on planes, but with everything we used to do being closed or canceled, we don’t really have anywhere to go. With all the reduced human movement caused by the pandemic—not just in air travel, but transportation of all kinds—has come a reckoning about our impact on the planet, and calls to find ways to continue the emissions...
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Even for high-tech California, the man strolling around UCLA was a curious sight. His motion capture suit, sensor-embedded gloves, and virtual reality eyewear were already enough to turn heads. But what stopped people in their tracks and made them stare was a bizarre headgear, tightly strapped to his head through a swimming cap-like device embedded with circular electrode connectors. Several springy wires sprouted from the headge...
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With increasing frequency, I notice sudden silences, like sonic black holes opening around me. There’ll be the white noise of a person puttering about followed by a profound ceasing of movement. Inevitably, I find somebody frozen in the middle of a room or open doorway, eyes glued to the screen. Talking to them is no use, because talking assumes presence. That our attention is a commodity in the information age is no secret. The ...
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A little over two years ago, a shipping container-sized cylinder bearing Microsoft’s name and logo was lowered onto the ocean floor off the northern coast of Scotland. Inside were 864 servers, and their submersion was part of the second phase of the software giant’s Project Natick. Launched in 2015, the project’s purpose is to determine the feasibility of underwater data centers powered by offshore renewable energy. A couple mont...
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As the ills of factory farming become more pronounced, people are increasingly gravitating towards vegetarian or pescatarian diets. Besides producing a large percentage of our total greenhouse gas emissions, raising livestock uses up a third of the world’s arable land to grow feed, not to mention that the animals themselves are often terribly mistreated. Eating fish, then, seems preferable to meat. In fact, according to the Globa...
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What will it take for CRISPR babies to become medically acceptable? Earlier this month, an international commission of scientists released a highly anticipated report detailing the steps needed to turn a gene-editing fiasco into a powerful treatment that could wipe out genetic diseases throughout generations. The conclusion: Editing the genome of human embryos to make CRISPR babies isn’t yet safe. But as the technology matures, i...
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As we pack electronics into ever smaller packages, dealing with the heat they produce is becoming a growing challenge. Now researchers have developed a liquid cooling system integrated directly within a microchip that dramatically outperforms previous approaches. For decades the way we’ve boosted the power of computers and other electronics has been to squeeze more and more transistors on each chip. But each of these components g...
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For years it can seem as if the world is predictable, and then all at once, everything changes. Most of us have been blown away by the speed at which the coronavirus, Covid-19, has swept the world. But 2020’s pace is more comprehensible if you see the pandemic as an exponential phenomenon. When spreading unchecked, coronavirus infections were doubling over a short time frame, and the doubling time itself was decreasing. This ma...
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The coronavirus pandemic has forced us to quickly adapt to circumstances that were unimaginable a year ago. Companies are finding new ways to do business, and in the process we’re seeing an acceleration of technologies that, though they were already in the pipeline, would have taken several more years to really pick up speed. One of these technologies is drones. Though the regulations around them are still somewhat piecemeal, dro...
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The coronavirus pandemic has been an all-around nightmare, but there are a few silver linings. One of these is a renewed focus on the environment. Emissions plummeted worldwide when countries went into lockdown in the spring, and cities have since been implementing new measures to keep pollution down and get people to be more active and environmentally conscious. In keeping with the trend, ridesharing market leader Uber announced...
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If I were to picture futuristic bots that could revolutionize both microrobotics and medicine, a Pop-Tart with four squiggly legs would not be on top of my list. I was so wrong. Last week, Drs. Marc Miskin*, Itai Cohen, and Paul McEuen at Cornell University spearheaded a collaboration that tackled one of the most pressing problems in microrobotics—getting those robots to move in a controllable manner. They graced us with an arm...
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A quantum internet promises a truly unhackable way to communicate, but most proposals so far only link two users at a time and require costly infrastructure. Now researchers have demonstrated the first city-wide quantum network piggybacking off existing fiber optic cable. While the internet has enabled a massive expansion of the global economy, it’s also incredibly vulnerable to attack. A 2018 report from the US government estima...
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What will the future look, smell, sound, taste, and feel like? And why on Earth—and other planets—are those questions relevant, especially given the havoc going on in the world, right here and now? Simply put, because those future sensory experiences will be the ultimate test of whether we made it through this difficult era. As long as we’re embodied beings, processing the world through our senses, there will be no holier grail t...
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The upcoming US presidential election seems set to be something of a mess—to put it lightly. Covid-19 will likely deter millions from voting in person, and mail-in voting isn’t shaping up to be much more promising. This all comes at a time when political tensions are running higher than they have in decades, issues that shouldn’t be political (like mask-wearing) have become highly politicized, and Americans are dramatically divided...
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The demand for cheaper, greener electricity means that the energy landscape is changing faster than at any other point in history. This is particularly true of solar-powered electricity and battery storage. The cost of both has dropped at unprecedented rates over the past decade and energy efficient technologies such as LED lighting have also expanded. Access to cheap and ubiquitous solar power and storage will transform the way ...
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Glow-in-the-dark mice, gene-modded weed and payment microchips in your hand? That’s the surprisingly realistic science backdrop of Biohackers, but that’s where it stays. Biohackers, the six-episode German sci-fi series set in Freiburg, was released on August 20th. Biohacking is an umbrella term comprising synthetic biology, DIY science, bodyhacking, and health optimization. Expensive genetic engineering experiments that could p...
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Neuralink’s wildly anticipated demo last Friday left me with more questions than answers. With a presentation teeming with promises and vision but scant on data, the event nevertheless lived up to its main goal as a memorable recruitment session to further the growth of the mysterious brain implant company. Launched four years ago with the backing of Elon Musk, Neuralink has been working on futuristic neural interfaces that seaml...
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Doing calculations with a quantum computer is a race against time, thanks to the fragility of the quantum states at their heart. And new research suggests we may soon hit a wall in how long we can hold them together thanks to interference from natural background radiation. While quantum computing could one day enable us to carry out calculations beyond even the most powerful supercomputer imaginable, we’re still a long way from t...
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A famous image of inventor Nikola Tesla shows him casually sitting on a chair, legs crossed, taking notes—oblivious to the profusion of artificial lightning rending the air meters away. By then, Tesla and raw electricity were like an old married couple. The experiments, conducted in Colorado, led to one of Tesla’s most audacious proposals: To power the world without wires. He made headlines with plans for a “world wireless system...
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