A New Threat to Oceans: Deep-Sea Mining for Precious Metals
Around 500 miles southeast of the bright turquoise waters at Honolulu Harbor, and two and a half miles down to the dark ocean floor, a massive carpet of potato-sized rocks stretches thousands of miles on the seabed. These rocks, called polymetallic, or manganese, nodules, are made up of manganese, nickel, copper, and cobalt. The nodules’ […]
The Rube Goldberg Machine That Mastered Keynesian Economics
While researching my soon-to-be-released biography on John Horton Conway, an iconoclastic and very influential mathematician at Princeton, I organized a research trip to his native England. We visited with Conway’s elder sister, Joan, in Liverpool, and convened a reunion at his alma mater, Cambridge. We met there with a few of his “sum chums,” his co-authors […]
Why Our Genome and Technology Are Both Riddled With “Crawling Horrors”
“Add little to little and there will be a big pile.” —Ovid When we build complex technologies, despite our best efforts and our desire for clean logic, they often end up being far messier than we intend. They often end up kluges: inelegant solutions that work just well enough. And a reason they end up being […]
The Big Problem With “Big Science” Ventures—Like the Human Brain Project
The National Institutes of Health’s “Human Connectome Project” aims to elucidate the architecture of nerve fibers in the brain, as illustrated here. Patric Hagmann, Department of Radiology, University Hospital Lausanne (CHUV), Switzerland In 2005 neuroscientist Henry Markram embarked on a mission to create a supercomputer simulation of the human brain, known as the Blue Brain […]
Thank You for Buying “Call of Duty” & Helping to Fight Cancer!
No still image can show the amazing realism of the Call of Duty games—but this can give you an idea.Activision If you’ve seen the latest ads for the video game Call of Duty, they are almost guaranteed to have left an impression. First-person view, blasting through doors, dodging bullets, jumping off buildings with Taylor Kitsch […]
Will You Be Able to Read this Article in 1,000 Years?
If you ask Anthony Weiner, digital records—especially those on the Internet—can seem impossibly hard to get rid of. When a picture or document is reduced to a series of 1s and 0s, it becomes transmissible, reproducible, downloadable, and storable. You can’t burn digital books, and ideas like cloud computing make it possible to back up […]
Will Humans Be Able to Control Computers That Are Smarter Than Us?
The ominous eye of HAL in 2001: A Space Odyssey If humans go on to create artificial intelligence, will it present a significant danger to us? Several technical luminaries have been open and clear with respect to this possibility: Elon Musk, the founder of SpaceX, has equated it to “summoning the demon”; Stephen Hawking warns […]
The Brilliant “Baloney Slicer” That Started the Digital Age
In the early 1950s, the U.S. Air Force Supply Depot in Ohio was looking for a faster way to store and fetch information from its sizable inventory. They had 50,000 items in their records and wanted instant access to each one of them. The dominant storage technologies of the time—punch cards, magnetic tape and magnetic […]
Goodbye, Turing Test; Bring on the Turing Decathlon
A statue of Alan Turing by sculptor Stephen Kettle made entirely of pieces of slate. The statue depicts Turing working on an Enigma machine, which the Nazis used to encode messages, and is located at Bletchley Park, the British-government site where Turing and colleagues did their code-breaking. Photo by Richard Gillin via Flickr How many […]