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Scientists Pursue Novel Blood Tests for Cancer

Fri, 10/31/2014 - 00:00

The inventor of a breakthrough DNA test for Down syndrome says the technology can be used to screen people for cancer.

The Hong Kong scientist who invented a simple blood test to show pregnant women if their babies have Down syndrome is now testing a similar technology for cancer.

Will a Breakthrough Solar Technology See the Light of Day?

Thu, 10/30/2014 - 00:00

A startup that might have a record-breaking solar cell is in danger of going out of business.

The power unit is a rectangular slab about the size of a movie theater screen. It’s mounted on a thick steel post, and equipped with a tracking mechanism that continuously points it at the sun. The slab is made of over 100,000 small lenses and an equal number of even smaller solar cells, each the size of the tip of a ballpoint pen. This contraption is part of one of the most efficient solar power devices ever made.

A Credit Card Terminal That Takes Apps

Wed, 10/29/2014 - 09:30

A former head of Google Wallet rolls out a “smart” terminal for all kinds of payments.

Last year, Osama Bedier—then the head of Google Wallet—decided he was on the wrong side of the payments business.

Alert! Websites Will Soon Start Pushing App-Style Notifications

Tue, 10/28/2014 - 10:21

A new feature of most browsers will let them issue alerts through a PC or mobile operating system.

What some call the smartphone era might better be termed the notification era.

Your Retirement May Include a Robot Helper

Mon, 10/27/2014 - 00:00

As industrial robots become more capable, they could start helping out around the home.

Youngsters aren’t the only ones who get the latest high-tech gadgets. Sometime in the next decade or two, homebound retirees could be early adopters of an important new technology: the home-help robot.

Your Grandpa’s Robot Helper Is on the Way

Mon, 10/27/2014 - 00:00

As industrial robots become more capable, they could start helping out around the home.

Youngsters aren’t the only ones who get the latest high-tech gadgets. Sometime in the next decade or two, homebound retirees could be early adopters of an important new technology: the home-help robot.

Voice Recognition for the Internet of Things

Fri, 10/24/2014 - 00:00

With natural-language processing aided by crowdsourced data, Wit.ai aims to make smartphones, wearables, and drones heed your call.

It’s not unusual to find yourself talking to an uncoöperative appliance or gadget. Soon, though, it could soon be more common for those devices to actually pay attention.

The Quest to Put More Reality in Virtual Reality

Wed, 10/22/2014 - 00:00

The inventor of Second Life has spent 15 years chasing the dream of living in virtual space. Can his new company finally give virtual worlds mass-market appeal?

Philip Rosedale is telling me about his new company, but I can’t stop myself from looking down at my hands. With palms up, I watch with fascination as I slowly wiggle my fingers and form the “OK” sign. I curl my hands into fists as I reach my arms out in front. They look pinker than normal but work as usual. When I look back up at Rosedale, he’s wearing a smile, and his eyebrows rise slightly. “Isn’t it cool?” he says. In my right ear, I hear a quiet chuckle from one of his colleagues, Ryan Karpf, standing just outside my vision.

China’s Growing Bets on GMOs

Tue, 10/21/2014 - 00:10

New technology and large government research initiatives in ­genetically modified crops are giving China a storehouse for a more populous future.

How will China get enough to eat? More than 1.3 billion people live in the world’s most populous nation, and another 100 million will join them by 2030. China is already a net food importer, and people are eating more meat, putting further demands on land used to grow food. Meanwhile, climate change could cut yields of crucial crops—rice, wheat, and corn—by 13 percent over the next 35 years. Mindful of these trends, China’s government spends more than any other on research into genetically modified crops. It’s searching for varieties with higher yields and resistance to pests, disease, drought, and heat. The results are showing up in the nation’s hundreds of plant biotech labs.

China’s GMO Stockpile

Tue, 10/21/2014 - 00:10

With its world-leading research investments and vast size, China will dominate the future of genetically modified food—despite the resistance of its population.

It is a hot, smoggy July weekend in Beijing, and the gates to the Forbidden City are thronged with tens of thousands of sweat-drenched tourists. Few make the trek to the city’s east side and its more tranquil China Agricultural Museum, where several formal buildings are set amid sparkling ponds ringed by lotus plants in full pink bloom. The site, which is attached to the Ministry of Agriculture, promises that it will “acquaint visitors with the brilliant agricultural history of China”—but what’s missing from the official presentation is as telling as what’s on display.

Technology and Inequality

Tue, 10/21/2014 - 00:10

The disparity between the rich and everyone else is larger than ever in the United States and increasing in much of Europe. Why?

The signs of the gap—really, a chasm—between the poor and the super-rich are hard to miss in Silicon Valley. On a bustling morning in downtown Palo Alto, the center of today’s technology boom, apparently homeless people and their meager belongings occupy almost every available public bench. Twenty minutes away in San Jose, the largest city in the Valley, a camp of homeless people known as the Jungle—reputed to be the largest in the country—has taken root along a creek within walking distance of Adobe’s headquarters and the gleaming, ultramodern city hall.

Isaac Asimov Asks, “How Do People Get New Ideas?”

Mon, 10/20/2014 - 12:15

Note from Arthur Obermayer, friend of the author:

Isaac Asimov Mulls “How Do People Get New Ideas?”

Mon, 10/20/2014 - 12:15

Note from Arthur Obermayer, friend of the author:

How a Wiki Is Keeping Direct-to-Consumer Genetics Alive

Sun, 10/19/2014 - 00:00

The FDA ordered 23andMe to stop selling its health tests. But for the intrepid, genome knowledge is still available.

When Meg DeBoe decided to tap her Christmas fund to order a $99 consumer DNA test from 23andMe last year, she was disappointed: it arrived with no information on what her genes said about her chance of developing Alzheimer’s and heart disease. The report only delved into her genetic genealogy, possible relatives, and ethnic roots.

Air Traffic Control for Drones

Fri, 10/17/2014 - 00:00

If large numbers of commercial drones are to take to the skies, they’ll need an air traffic control system.

How do you keep small drone aircraft safe in the world’s busiest national airspace? One idea is to have them use cellphone networks to feed data back to an air traffic control system made just for drones.

Can Apple Pay Do to Your Wallet What iTunes Did for Music?

Wed, 10/15/2014 - 17:30

With added security, better design, and improved convenience, Apple Pay hopes to finally make mobile payments commonplace at the register.



The Right Way to Fix the Internet

Tue, 10/14/2014 - 00:00

Letting go of an obsession with net neutrality could free technologists to make online services even better.

If you’re like most people, your monthly smartphone bill is steep enough to make you shudder. As consumers’ appetite for connectivity keeps growing, the price of wireless service in the United States tops $130 a month in many households.

Carbon Sequestration: Too Little, Too Late?

Mon, 10/13/2014 - 00:00

A few carbon capture and sequestration projects are under way, but economics and politics are holding the technology back.

To impede climate change, scientific studies suggest, billions of tons of carbon dioxide need to be captured from hundreds of fossil-fuel power plants in the next few decades—and as soon as possible. Without large-scale carbon capture and sequestration (CCS), other measures—including rollouts of renewable and nuclear power—will not avert catastrophic climate effects in the coming century and beyond (see “The Carbon Capture Conundrum”).

Microsoft’s Quantum Mechanics

Fri, 10/10/2014 - 00:00

Can an aging corporation’s adventures in fundamental physics research open a new era of unimaginably powerful computers?

In 2012, physicists in the Netherlands announced a discovery in particle physics that started chatter about a Nobel Prize. Inside a tiny rod of semiconductor crystal chilled cooler than outer space, they had caught the first glimpse of a strange particle called the Majorana fermion, finally confirming a prediction made in 1937. It was an advance seemingly unrelated to the challenges of selling office productivity software or competing with Amazon in cloud computing, but Craig Mundie, then heading Microsoft’s technology and research strategy, was delighted. The abstruse discovery—partly underwritten by Microsoft—was crucial to a project at the company aimed at making it possible to build immensely powerful computers that crunch data using quantum physics. “It was a pivotal moment,” says Mundie. “This research was guiding us toward a way of realizing one of these systems.”

Microsoft’s Quantum Mechanics

Fri, 10/10/2014 - 00:00

Can an aging corporation’s adventures in fundamental physics research open a new era of unimaginably powerful computers?

In 2012, physicists in the Netherlands announced a discovery in particle physics that started chatter about a Nobel Prize. Inside a tiny rod of semiconductor crystal chilled cooler than outer space, they had caught the first glimpse of a strange particle called the Majorana fermion, finally confirming a prediction made in 1937. It was an advance seemingly unrelated to the challenges of selling office productivity software or competing with Amazon in cloud computing, but Craig Mundie, then heading Microsoft’s technology and research strategy, was delighted. The abstruse discovery—partly underwritten by Microsoft—was crucial to a project at the company aimed at making it possible to build immensely powerful computers that crunch data using quantum physics. “It was a pivotal moment,” says Mundie. “This research was guiding us toward a way of realizing one of these systems.”

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