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Timothy Kemp

Timothy Kemp's Public Library

  • The plan is to power these drones with the sun, so they can stay aloft for months at a time. Aquila isn’t yet ready for that, but Facebook says the current design can operate on the power of about three hair dryers at altitude—and about a single hairdryer at sea level. “We want this plane to fly as slowly as possible,” Parikh says. “It is very big and has a lot of lift, but it doesn’t need a lot of power to move it forward.”

  • Most people have no idea what’s in an iPhone. Yttrium and praseodymium don’t exactly roll off the tongue, but they’re part of what make smartphones so small, powerful, and bright. These exotic materials are among the planet’s 17 rare-earth elements, and surprisingly, the soft, silvery metals are not at all rare. But they’re found in tiny concentrations, all mixed together, and usually embedded in hard rock, which makes them difficult — and messy — to isolate. In China, which mines 89 percent of global output, toxic wastes from rare-earth facilities have poisoned water, ruined farmlands, and made people sick.
  • Beyond high-tech gadgets, rare earths play a critical role in national defense, enabling radar systems and guided missiles. Ironically, they also power clean-energy technologies, such as wind turbines and electric cars. This year, global consumption is expected to be about 155,000 tons, far more than the 45,000 tons used 25 years ago. Demand will only grow — likely at an accelerated pace — as the world tries to rein in climate change.

  • When Dilma first came to power in 2011, she basked in Lula’s reflected glory. Her opponents could never imagine that she would fall so badly. The Brazilian system, however, permits endless space for machination, and it provides shelter to some first-class schemers.


    Perhaps the biggest structural flaw is that the system has encouraged fragmentation. Over time, the number of political parties has proliferated wildly. There are 28 separate parties in the current Congress. Misguided reforms encouraged this proliferation but so did the logic of game theory. Bargaining has always been a central feature of Brazilian politics—where the resources of the state are used to purchase political support. Politicians came to believe that broad-based political parties are contrary to their own self-interests. Nothing could provide more leverage than holding out for the best deal, by providing the crucial last vote. Many politicians concluded that it is more profitable to be a lone operator than a loyal member of a larger group.

  • Even though their statistical systems like image recognition are currently better than humans', they're far from perfect and "when they make mistakes, they make mistakes that no human would make." If a system goes awry, there's no underlying theory on why. "You don't understand what's happening," Prabhakar told Engadget.
  • Even if you trust the AI infrastructure that's been created and believe it'll do everything it's supposed to, it could still be hacked. "I don't think people fully understand yet what it means to deceive these systems" Prabhakar said. In addition to trust, DARPA thinks a lot about the potential for artificial intelligence to be hacked or tricked into veering from its mission.

    A rogue drone or smart gun that's been hacked could be devastating. It could alter the course of a mission or worse, turn on its human counterparts. Which brings us back to the DARPA Cyber Grand Challenge and its bots that find and fix vulnerabilities. They're an important part of a giant puzzle of technology that'll pit robot against robot with human helpers.

    The future of warfare will be filled with AI and robots, but it'll be more than just autonomous drones clashing on the battlefield. It'll include humans and computers working together to attack and defend military systems. More importantly, it'll be a world where whoever builds the best artificial intelligence will emerge the victor

  • Today, life in Russia – where everything is political, where the population is mobilized around leader and nation, where censorship and one-party rule have effectively been restored – is more similar to life in the Soviet Union than at any point in the last 25 years.

  • But sometimes—after a severe injury, an amputation, or diabetic nerve damage, for example—nerve fibers or the cells from which they originate physically change. Deep inside them, some genes can get turned on or off. That changes the number or type of active cellular machines known as sodium channels—proteins that stick out of the cells and regulate their ability to generate electrical impulses. Nerve cells talk to each other by means of these electrical impulses, and the sudden activity of extra sodium channels can cause a nerve to fire machine-gun-like bursts “spontaneously, even when there are no threatening stimuli,” explains Stephen Waxman, a professor of neurology at Yale University who directs the Center for Neuroscience and Regeneration Research at a Veterans Affairs hospital in Connecticut. Those bursts leave people in extreme pain. One common cause is chemotherapy. “Sometimes that pain is so bad people say ‘I can’t stand it,’” Waxman says. “‘I would rather die from cancer than have the pain associated with treatment.’”
  • Our peripheral nerves, where we pick up pain signals, lead back to the spinal column, where they connect with nerve cells that carry messages into the central nervous system and to neurons in the brain, at which point we feel the pain.

    This is where all opioids, from Oxycontin to heroin and morphine, work their magic. They do so by binding to what are known as mu receptors at the junctions where nerve cells meet. That essentially flips a switch that reduces the ability of these cells to fire. So when nerve fibers at the periphery of the body send pain signals up to the brain for processing, the neurons that would normally make us feel this pain don’t respond.

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