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 writers Alex Zhang, Justin Ederheimer, and Jade Thompson produce weekly. Our section editor is Fei Zhao.
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.
According to a report from Bloomberg last week, thousands of Chinese chips were inserted in US computer equipment and were used to steal US technology secrets. The report states that large technology businesses including Amazon and Apple discovered such chips on their own and co-operated with US authorities to conduct further investigations.
Google’s services record users' location data even if settings have been manually adjusted to shut these features off, according to a report from the Associated Press. The problem could affect approximately two billion devices that use Google’s services.
Amazon’s surging volume of third-party merchants increases product variety and keeps prices low. However, it also leads to extremely fierce competition, driving many companies to desperate, and often illegal, measures in order to survive.
Ride hailing services like Uber and Lyft are rapidly becoming a leading mode of transportation in many US cities, and are often praised by economists for their exceptional efficiency in connecting riders to drivers, especially compared to sluggish taxi services. As a result, the two private companies have become venture capital darlings: Lyft is valued at $15.1 billion while Uber is valued at a whopping $72 billion, making it the highest valued tech unicorn in the United States.
Apps from a well-known cyber-security company were taken down from the Mac App Store by Apple after they were reported to export user data.
This past week, a new peer-reviewed scientific research journal showcasing cutting-edge African research was published in Kigali, Rwanda for the first time.
Accounts of the mysterious weather occurrence known as “ball lightning” have been documented throughout human history, but it wasn’t until the 1960’s that scientists began looking deeper into the phenomenon.
Zoonotic diseases are transmitted between animals and humans, and make up 60% of all human diseases. Their impact is devastating: 13 of these infections alone kill 2.2 million people per year.
When CRISPR was discovered less than a decade ago, scientists worldwide rejoiced at the ease with which they could now target and alter DNA. It has become apparent, however, that gene editing isn’t the only trick up CRISPR’s sleeve.
This Friday, Amazon announced the upcoming launch of its delivery service which is called “Shipping with Amazon.” The company hopes to compete against FedEx and UPS in the shipping and handling business.
On February 6th, SpaceX launched its new Falcon Heavy rocket at the Kennedy Space Center from the same launch pad that NASA used to send men to the moon half a century ago. The occasion was momentous not only because the Falcon Heavy is currently the most powerful rocket in existence but also because the launch concluded with the successful landing of two boosters.
While U.S. tech companies such as Amazon are still experimenting health care with their own employees' coverage, China has skipped the testing phase, in favor of more advanced offerings.