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Compulsive Behavior Sells

Mon, 03/23/2015 - 00:00

Nir Eyal is showing software designers how to hook users in four easy steps. Welcome to the new era of habit-forming technology.

A middle-aged woman sits before a computer screen on the 11th floor of Expedia’s glass-clad headquarters in Seattle. Two electrodes are taped to her brow just above her left eye, two more on her left cheek. A one-way mirror reflects her face as she responds to requests issuing from a speaker mounted in the ceiling.

Reality Check: Comparing HoloLens and Magic Leap

Fri, 03/20/2015 - 00:00

After trying demos of Magic Leap and HoloLens, it’s clear that commercializing augmented reality technology will be difficult.

I’ve seen two competing visions for a future in which virtual objects are merged seamlessly with the real world. Both were impressive in part, but they also made me wonder whether augmented reality will become a successful commercial reality anytime soon.

High-Resolution 3-D Scans Built from Drone Photos

Thu, 03/19/2015 - 00:00

A drone spent hours swarming around Rio’s iconic Christ statue to show a cheap way to capture highly accurate 3-D scans.

The 30-meter tall statue of Christ overlooking Rio de Janeiro from a nearby mountain was under construction for nine years before its opening in 1931. It took just hours to build the first detailed 3-D scan of the monument late last year, using more than 2,000 photos captured by a small drone that buzzed all around it with an ordinary digital camera. The statue’s digital double was unveiled last month, and is accurate to between two and five centimeters, enough to capture individual mosaic tiles.

Virtual Reality Advertisements Get in Your Face

Wed, 03/18/2015 - 00:00

Some companies see virtual and augmented reality as a way to make money from a new type of ads.

I’m sitting in a desk chair in an office in Mountain View, California. But with a virtual-reality headset strapped to my head and headphones over my ears, it looks and sounds like I’m standing in the belly of a blimp, flying high above silent city blocks dotted with billboards for a Despicable Me theme-park ride.

Rewriting the Rules of Turing’s Imitation Game

Tue, 03/17/2015 - 00:00

Some researchers are searching for more meaningful ways to measure artificial intelligence.

We have self-driving cars, knowledgeable digital assistants, and software capable of putting names to faces as well as any expert. Google recently announced that it had developed software capable of learning—entirely without human help—how to play several classic Atari computer games with skill far beyond that of even the most callus-thumbed human player.

A Contrarian in Biotech

Mon, 03/16/2015 - 00:00

Peter Thiel was the first large investor in Facebook. Now he’s turning his investing skills to biotechnology.

Peter Thiel is the co-founder of PayPal, the investor who discovered Facebook, and the author of Zero to One, a short account of the counterintuitive thinking that’s made him a godfather figure in Silicon Valley (see “The Contrarian’s Guide to Changing the World.”)

The Electric Mood-Control Acid Test

Thu, 03/12/2015 - 10:55

A startup called Thync will sell electrodes that you put on your head to improve your mood. The results may vary to a surprising degree.

I’m working on a story that’s almost due. It’s going well. I’m almost finished. But then everything falls apart. I get an angry e-mail from a researcher who’s upset about another article. My stomach knots up. My heart pounds. I reply with a defensive e-mail and afterward can’t stop mentally rehashing my response. Taking deep breaths and a short walk don’t help. I can’t focus on finishing my story, and as the deadline approaches, that makes me more uptight and it gets even harder to write.

India’s Ambitious Bid to Become a Solar Power

Mon, 03/09/2015 - 00:00

The Indian government hopes to increase the country’s solar capacity 30-fold by 2020.

India’s Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, made headlines last fall by announcing his ambition to install 100 gigawatts of solar power capacity—over 30 times more than India has now—by 2022. Skeptics noted Modi’s lack of a detailed plan and budget, but some well-capitalized industrial players have apparently caught Modi’s solar fever: at a renewable energy summit called by Modi last month he collected pledges for 166 gigawatts of solar projects.

Engineering the Perfect Baby

Thu, 03/05/2015 - 15:00

Scientists are developing ways to edit the DNA of tomorrow’s children. Should they stop before it’s too late?

If anyone had devised a way to create a genetically engineered baby, I figured George Church would know about it.

Electronic Inks Make 3-D Printing More Promising

Thu, 03/05/2015 - 00:00

A startup called Voxel8’s is using materials expertise to extend the capabilities of 3-D printing.

Three cofounders of Voxel8, a Harvard spinoff, are showing me a toy they’ve made. At the company’s lab space—a couple of cluttered work benches in a big warehouse it shares with other startups—a bright-orange quadcopter takes flight and hovers above tangles of wires, computer equipment, coffee mugs, and spare parts.

Google Researchers Make Quantum Computing Components More Reliable

Wed, 03/04/2015 - 12:04

Researchers from a university and Google demonstrate a crucial error-correction step needed to make quantum computing practical.

A solution to one of the key problems holding back the development of quantum computers has been demonstrated by researchers at Google and the University of California, Santa Barbara. Many more problems remain to be solved, but experts in the field say it is an important step toward a fully functional quantum computer. Such a machine could perform calculations that would take a conventional computer millions of years to complete.

Smart Watches Show More Style and Substance

Tue, 03/03/2015 - 17:23

New and improved smart watches were unveiled at Mobile World Congress—but consumers remain unconvinced.

From telling the time to telling you how many times you’ve been retweeted, watches keep taking on new functions. The ones on show at this year’s Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain, finally add form to their functionality—but it remains far from clear what the killer features are for these devices.

Zuckerberg: Internet Growth Means More than Drones

Mon, 03/02/2015 - 17:20

Efforts to expand Internet access via mobile technologies may be stymied by economic and social challenges.

Mark Zuckerberg said today at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain, that, Facebook’s effort to subsidize Internet access in the developing world, has brought new people online and helped telecommunications operators pick up new data subscribers around the world. “It works,” Zuckerberg said.

At EmTech Digital, Meet Insiders from Magic Leap, Google's Project Loon

Thu, 02/26/2015 - 14:07

Our June event in San Francisco offers access to the people behind our 10 Breakthrough Technologies, including insiders from Magic Leap and Google’s Project Loon.

This June, MIT Technology Review’s EmTech Digital (formerly Digital Summit) brings a global examination of the most significant technologies and trends of the digital era to San Francisco. Our live events include you in our conversations with the individuals and organizations at the heart of the most significant developments of the year.

A Smart-Watch Pioneer Has an Answer for Apple

Tue, 02/24/2015 - 10:00

As the Apple Watch casts a shadow across the smart-watch market, Pebble preps a wrist-worn gadget with a color e-paper display.

If Eric Migicovsky, founder and CEO of smart-watch maker Pebble, is nervous about Apple’s looming entry into his company’s turf, he isn’t showing it.

Bitcoin-Inspired Digital Currency to Power Mobile Savings App

Fri, 02/20/2015 - 00:00

A nonprofit experiments with using digital currency to give poor teenagers their first experience of financial services.

Proponents of the digital currency Bitcoin have often argued that money made out of computer code could help poor people access financial services. But so far applications for the technology have been almost exclusively aimed at people with Internet access and smartphones. Now a South African nonprofit is preparing to give the idea its first real test.


Wed, 02/18/2015 - 00:05

A Caltech scientist creates tiny lattices with enormous potential.

Availability: 3-5 years

Brain Organoids

Wed, 02/18/2015 - 00:05

A new method for growing human brain cells could unlock the mysteries of dementia, mental illness, and other neurological disorders.

Availability: now

Project Loon

Wed, 02/18/2015 - 00:05

Billions of people could get online for the first time thanks to helium balloons that Google will soon send over many places cell towers don’t reach.

Availability: 1-2 years

Internet of DNA

Wed, 02/18/2015 - 00:05

A global network of millions of genomes could be medicine’s next great advance.

Availability: 1-2 years