Science and Technology
The Science and Technology Section of IR Insider publishes breaking news reports and analysis regarding scientific and technological developments and their broader social, political, and economic implications. Topics covered in the Science and Technology Section may include space programs, environmental challenges, biology, animal behavior, genetics, social media, artificial intelligence, robotics and beyond. Our section editor is Fei Zhao.
A study published in the journal Nature Ecology & Evolution describes a possible origin of the mysterious builders of Stonehenge.
On April 10, 2019, the team behind the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) unveiled the above image of the supermassive black hole M87* at the center of the Messier 87 galaxy. This marks the first time the silhouette of a black hole has ever been recorded, an unprecedented feat which is being said to “open a new era of astrophysics.”
On Monday, Apr. 8, London became the first city in the world to execute a perpetual Ultra Low Emissions Zone (ULEZ). Clean Air Zone (CAZ), Low Emissions Zone (LEZ), and Ultra Low Emissions Zones (ULEZ) are terms used to describe geographical locations where there are restrictions placed on the types of vehicles that may drive through. London has introduced the first ULEZ, which currently expands over Central London’s pre-existing congestion charge zone.
A study conducted at Johns Hopkins University indicates that MDMA (more commonly known by its street name “ecstasy”) is able to return mice who had exhibited antisocial behavior to a more sociable state, similar to that which is exhibited during adolescence. The researchers believe that, if applicable to humans, the results could show the underlying reasons for why MDMA is effective in treating trauma and stressor-related disorders such as PTSD, as well as allow for the expansion of such treatments.
NASA’s Curiosity rover recently discovered a methane spike on Mars, an event which has been confirmed by the Mars Express Orbiter. The presence of methane is further evidence that Mars could have sustained life, and lends support to the ongoing search for life on the planet. While this new discovery is not definitive proof, it could lead to more targeted explorations and studies.
On Tuesday, March 26th, UPS announced that they will be delivering medical supplies in North Carolina using drones. UPS has teamed up with Matternet, an autonomous delivery drone company, to test the process of using drones to make deliveries. The project is being moderated by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDT).
On Wednesday, March 14th, many users reported trouble accessing Facebook-owned apps. The outages were due to a greater debate between CEOs and policymakers surrounding the monopolistic status of Facebook and other large tech corporations. These reports began to subside early in the morning of Thursday, March 15th, and officially ended Thursday afternoon.
Since 2017, major airports have been preparing for the use of facial recognition to ID passengers. To increase security, the US government wants to ensure that all international passengers, including American citizens, undergo facial recognition before passing the airport gate.
Researchers announced on Monday, March 4th, at the Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections (CROI) in Seattle, that a bone marrow transplant has left the so-called “London Patient” in long-term remission, marking the second of such cases. The next day, a different team announced a potential third case with the “Düsseldorf Patient,” who received a similar treatment.
A “global coalition” of approximately 50 Microsoft employees has written a letter addressed to CEO Satya Nadella and President and CLO Brad Smith protesting a deal made in November 2018 to supply Microsoft’s HoloLens mixed reality system to the US Army.
The US Military cut off all internet access to an infamous Russian Troll Farm during the 2018 Midterm elections, which continued for several days after the voting period. The attack targeted the Internet Research Agency (IRA) in St. Petersburg, a Russian company closely associated with the Kremlin.
On Monday, a team comprised of Lockheed Martin, Germany’s Diehl Defence and Sweden’s Saab AB jointly unveiled the Falcon Air Defence System at the International Defence Exhibition & Conference (IDEX) 2019 in Abu Dhabi.
Human papillomavirus (HPV) is the most common sexually transmitted infection (STI) in the US, consisting of over 150 different variations, some of which can lead to cancer. Most forms of HPV treatment are known to be expensive and ridden with negative side effects, sometimes even resulting in cancer and death.
China and India, number one and number four respectively on the list of world’s largest polluters, have been making efforts to be more environmentally conscious. In fact, a study published in the journal Nature Sustainability found “a greening pattern that is strikingly prominent in China and India and overlaps with croplands worldwide.”
On Wednesday, the United Kingdom announced its goal to place driverless cars on their roads by 2021. The UK is refurbishing their code of practice to ensure safety throughout the testing and launching periods of the vehicles. The additions to the code of practice include clearer guidance on conducting trials more transparently and safely, as well as better communication with the relevant people during trial-planning stages.
California Institute of Technology’s (Caltech) AMBER lab, led by Professor Aaron Ames, is currently researching theoretical and experimental research in bipedal robotics, locomotion, nonlinear and hybrid systems, and prosthetic design. Last year, the lab began its work with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab to build the next generation of robots. But before these robots can go to Mars, Caltech wants them to master walking, running, jumping, and recovering on earth.
In May of this year, the Trump Administration announced the creation of the Select Committee on Artificial Intelligence. Deputy CTO at the White House, Michael Kratsios mentioned that “to realize the full potential of AI for the American people, it will require the combined efforts of industry, academia, and government.” They are making plans to update the Obama administration’s 2016 National Artificial Intelligence Research and Development Strategic Plan.
Tumblr announced that it will ban all pornography and adult content from its service starting Dec. 17. The new policy is considered to be a response to the removal of the app by Apple last month after a problem with the filtering system caused child pornography to appear on Tumblr’s feed. Indonesia banned the Tumblr for a day, while South Korea asked the site to filter its content more carefully.
In 2015, for the first time, Chinese researchers claim to have edited the genome of a human embryo. It resulted in a warning from scientists all over the world, with most agreeing the technology shouldn’t be used to tamper with the DNA of human infants. However, three years later, a Chinese research team has purported to have done just that.
The United Kingdom commissioned an independent review of a 25-year strategy for tackling cattle tuberculosis (TB) through badger culling — one of the most controversial strategies in the western part of the country. It was previously believed that appropriate culling could prevent badgers from spreading the disease to farm livestock. But the review reported that badger culling only had a “modest” effect on reducing cattle tuberculosis.
Madeline Gannon, otherwise known as the “robot tamer,” wants “to give people the ability to imagine a different future” with machines. Gannon is an architect, coder, and computational designer who is concerned with the unsettling and sometimes threatening presence many people associate with automated machines.
Recently, scientists at Kew Gardens Millennium Fertility Lab were able to grow an oak tree in a test tube. Oaktree seeds, along with the seeds of many other plants, are extremely difficult to store and are sensitive to desiccation. Dr. John Dickie, assistant head of the collections department at Kew says they are developing these new storage methods to create “an insurance policy against extinction in the wild" for such plants.
Scientists believe that deforestation in Malaysia may have indirectly caused a rapid rise in human cases of monkey malaria, most prominently Plasmodium knowlesi, which is usually seen in wild macaque monkeys. Although only the occasional occurrence of P. knowlesi malaria has been reported in the past, widespread deforestation and other agricultural expansion have likely resulted in the disease becoming the most common form of human malaria in many areas of Malaysia.
Dà-Jiāng Innovations (DJI) is a Chinese technology company known for manufacturing unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV). Also known as drones, these machines are commonly used for aerial photography and videography. DJI accounts for over 70 percent of the drone market. Their drones are known to be used in various television, music, and film industries around the world.
The females of many non-mammalian species are known to be capable of reproducing asexually (without a partner) through a process called parthenogenesis. In order to discover why parthenogenesis isn’t possible in mammals, scientists in China recently endeavored to engineer viable mouse embryos from same-sex parents.
A tiny companion 4G phone has been announced by Japan's biggest telecoms firm, NTT Docomo, last Thursday. The companion device, which will be released in Japan next month, is intended to act as a sidekick to today’s hulking smart phone and is designed to be small enough to fit inside a card holder.
At the Wired 25th Anniversary Conference on Monday, October 15, Bezos announced his support for technology industries partnering with the American military. He didn’t hesitate to proclaim his dissatisfaction with certain major tech companies that have pulled out of deals with the government, stating that "If U.S. tech companies turn their backs on the Department of Defense, this country is in trouble."
Recently, Facebook revealed that around 14 million of its users had their personal information stolen by hackers. The information hacked includes, but is not limited to, search history, location data, relationship status, and religious beliefs.
On October 8, NASA confirmed that the Hubble Space Telescope was forced to enter safe mode last Friday. Launched by NASA in 1990, the Hubble is one of the most important instruments used by astronomers to gather information about the universe.