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In five years, what will fundamentally change the customer experience as we know it today?
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A cheaper fuel cell could provide affordable power for microgrids.
A one-meter-square gray box studded with green lights sits in a hallway near the laboratory of materials scientist Eric Wachsman, director of the Energy Research Center at the University of Maryland. It is a mockup of a fuel-cell device that runs on natural gas, producing electricity at the same cost as a large gas plant.
The community that built the largest encyclopedia in history is shrinking, even as more people and Internet services depend on it than ever. Can it be revived, or is this the end of the Web’s idealistic era?
The sixth most widely used website in the world is not run anything like the others in the top 10. It is not operated by a sophisticated corporation but by a leaderless collection of volunteers who generally work under pseudonyms and habitually bicker with each other. It rarely tries new things in the hope of luring visitors; in fact, it has changed little in a decade. And yet every month 10 billion pages are viewed on the English version of Wikipedia alone. When a major news event takes place, such as the Boston Marathon bombings, complex, widely sourced entries spring up within hours and evolve by the minute. Because there is no other free information source like it, many online services rely on Wikipedia. Look something up on Google or ask Siri a question on your iPhone, and you’ll often get back tidbits of information pulled from the encyclopedia and delivered as straight-up facts.
As Web companies and government agencies analyze ever more information about our lives, it’s tempting to respond by passing new privacy laws or creating mechanisms that pay us for our data. Instead, we need a civic solution, because democracy is at risk.
In 1967, The Public Interest, then a leading venue for highbrow policy debate, published a provocative essay by Paul Baran, one of the fathers of the data transmission method known as packet switching. Titled “The Future Computer Utility,” the essay speculated that someday a few big, centralized computers would provide “information processing … the same way one now buys electricity.”
Today’s medicines can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars a year. The story of how two companies set prices for their costly new drugs suggests that the way we determine the value of such treatments will help decide the future of our health-care system.
In January 2012, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved Kalydeco, the first drug to treat the underlying cause of cystic fibrosis, after just three months of review. It was one of the fastest approvals of a new medicine in the agency’s history. Vertex Pharmaceuticals, which discovered and developed the drug, priced Kalydeco at $294,000 a year, which made it one of the world’s most expensive medicines. The company also pledged to provide it free to any patient in the United States who is uninsured or whose insurance won’t cover it. Doctors and patients enthusiastically welcomed the drug because it offers life-saving health benefits and there is no other treatment. Insurers and governments readily paid the cost.
Don’t expect self-driving cars to take over the roads anytime soon. Here’s what carmakers are really working on.
A silver BMW 5 Series is weaving through traffic at roughly 120 kilometers per hour (75 mph) on a freeway that cuts northeast through Bavaria between Munich and Ingolstadt. I’m in the driver’s seat, watching cars and trucks pass by, but I haven’t touched the steering wheel, the brake, or the gas pedal for at least 10 minutes. The BMW approaches a truck that is moving slowly. To maintain our speed, the car activates its turn signal and begins steering to the left, toward the passing lane. Just as it does, another car swerves into the passing lane from several cars behind. The BMW quickly switches off its signal and pulls back to the center of the lane, waiting for the speeding car to pass before trying again.
A mobile, one-armed robot that costs $35,000 is headed for research labs and maybe even some workplaces.
According to Melonee Wise, the manual laborer of the future has only one arm and stands just three feet, two inches tall. Such are the vital statistics of UBR1, a $35,000 mobile robot unveiled today by Wise’s startup company Unbounded Robotics.
A new database tool dramatically improves processing speeds using technology that’s already in your computer.
New software can use the graphics processors found on everyday computers to process torrents of data more quickly than is normally possible, opening up new ways to visually explore everything from Twitter posts to political donations.
After spending millions of dollars on legal fees, film studios should stop suing downloaders and take better advantage of what they do.
Jack Valenti, the late president of the Motion Picture Association of America, once warned that a new form of distribution might kill his industry. It would empty theaters and drain studio coffers. Why would anyone venture out to multiplexes when films could be disseminated virtually free and viewed in the convenience of your own home?
New outliners and authoring tools are machines for new thoughts.
In 1984, the personal-computer industry was still small enough to be captured, with reasonable fidelity, in a one-volume publication, the Whole Earth Software Catalog. It told the curious what was up: “On an unlovely flat artifact called a disk may be hidden the concentrated intelligence of thousands of hours of design.” And filed under “Organizing” was one review of particular note, describing a program called ThinkTank, created by a man named Dave Winer.
Smart watches risk becoming just another irritating gadget unless their makers learn to use AI and sensors to take advantage of the fact that they’re worn all day.
A century ago, banker Henry Graves Jr. and industrialist James Ward Packard embarked on a decades-long competition to acquire the watch with the most “complications”—a term used to denote any feature beyond simple time-telling. Their rivalry culminated in the creation of a gold pocket watch known as the Graves Supercomplication, designed and built by the Swiss watchmaker Patek Philippe. Its 24 complications included sunrise and sunset times in New York City and a chart of the city’s night sky. Graves paid about $15,000 for the watch in 1933 (roughly $270,000 in today’s money); at auction in 1999, it sold for $11 million.
Economist Simon Johnson says governments will feel the urge to suppress the crypto-currency Bitcoin.
AOL cofounder Steve Case makes the case for American entrepreneurs outside of Silicon Valley.
Entrepreneurs made America the leader of the free world, and only entrepreneurs can keep it there.
A leader at Microsoft proposes protecting personal data using technology once used to lock down music files.
When sharing music online took off in the 1990s, many companies turned to digital rights management (DRM) software as a way to restrict what could be done with MP3s and other music files—only to give up after the approach proved ineffective and widely unpopular. Today Craig Mundie, senior advisor to the CEO at Microsoft, resurrected the idea, proposing that a form of DRM could be used to prevent personal data from being misused.
World’s largest smartphone chipmaker offers to custom-build very efficient neuro-inspired chips for phones, robots, and vision systems.
The world’s largest smartphone chipmaker, Qualcomm, says it is ready to start helping partners manufacture a radically different kind of a chip—one that mimics the neural structures and processing methods found in the brain.
A Microsoft researcher proposes “big data due process” so citizens can learn how data analytics were used against them.
Data analytics are being used to implement a subtle form of discrimination, while anonymous data sets can be mined to reveal health data and other private information, a Microsoft researcher warned this morning at MIT Technology Review’s EmTech conference.
Revelations that the NSA has compromised hardware for surveillance highlights the vulnerability of computer systems to such attacks.
In 2011, General Michael Hayden, who had earlier been director of both the National Security Agency and the Central Intelligence Agency, described the idea of computer hardware with hidden “backdoors” planted by an enemy as “the problem from hell.” This month, news reports based on leaked documents said that the NSA itself has used that tactic, working with U.S. companies to insert secret backdoors into chips and other hardware to aid its surveillance efforts.
Oculus Rift has heavyweight developer support, and millions of dollars of crowdsourced investment. But many of the old challenges to this new technology remain.
“This technology is going to revolutionize the way we live, learn, work, and play.”
Scanning a smartphone for malware with a charger offers more protection than security apps ever can.
At the annual Black Hat security conference this summer, researchers demonstrated how it would be possible to add malware to an iPhone by connecting it to a modified charger. Now a mobile security startup is attempting to do the opposite, by selling a charger that can scan your smartphone for malware—and repair it, if necessary—while powering it up.