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Selling Teslas in China Won’t Do Much for the Environment

Thu, 04/17/2014 - 00:00

Because China relies so heavily on coal for power, electric vehicles aren’t necessarily an improvement over gasoline-powered cars.

Sales of electric vehicles in China, the world’s largest auto market, have been minuscule despite government incentives meant to put five million of the cars on the nation’s roads by 2020. Tesla Motors hopes to begin changing that as it makes its first deliveries of Model S sedans to customers in China this month.

Microrobots, Working Together, Build with Metal, Glass, and Electronics

Wed, 04/16/2014 - 13:45

Tiny robots that work together like ants could lead to a new way to manufacture complex structures and electronics.

Someone glancing through the door of Annjoe Wong-Foy’s lab at SRI International might think his equipment is infested by ants. Dark shapes about a centimeter across move to and fro over elevated walkways: they weave around obstacles and carry small sticks.

The Limits of Social Engineering

Wed, 04/16/2014 - 00:00

Tapping into big data, researchers and planners are building mathematical models of personal and civic behavior. But the models may hide rather than reveal the deepest sources of social ills.

In 1969, Playboy published a long, freewheeling interview with Marshall McLuhan in which the media theorist and sixties icon sketched a portrait of the future that was at once seductive and repellent. Noting the ability of digital computers to analyze data and communicate messages, he predicted that the machines eventually would be deployed to fine-tune society’s workings. “The computer can be used to direct a network of global thermostats to pattern life in ways that will optimize human awareness,” he said. “Already, it’s technologically feasible to employ the computer to program societies in beneficial ways.” He acknowledged that such centralized control raised the specter of “brainwashing, or far worse,” but he stressed that “the programming of societies could actually be conducted quite constructively and humanistically.”

World Cup Mind-Control Demo Faces Deadlines, Critics

Tue, 04/15/2014 - 16:27

A Brazilian neuroscientist says brain-controlled robotics will let the paralyzed walk again.

In less than 60 days, Brazil will begin hosting soccer’s 2014 World Cup, even though workers are still hurrying to pour concrete at three unfinished stadiums. At a laboratory in São Paulo, a Duke University neuroscientist is in his own race with the World Cup clock. He is rushing to finish work on a mind-controlled exoskeleton that he says a paralyzed Brazilian volunteer will don, navigate across a soccer pitch using his or her thoughts, and use to make the ceremonial opening kick of the tournament on June 12.

The Underappreciated Ties Between Art and Innovation

Tue, 04/15/2014 - 00:00

Author Sarah Lewis discusses some counterintuitive pathways to breakthroughs.

The path to a great achievement—whether it is a technological innovation or a masterwork of art—is almost never direct. On the contrary, creative breakthroughs often come after wrenching failures. That idea animates The Rise: Creativity, the Gift of Failure, and the Search for Mastery, a book by Sarah Lewis, an art curator who is completing her PhD at Yale. Based on 150 interviews with artists and explorers as well as scientists and entrepreneurs, the book is neither a self-help manual nor a bundle of case studies. It’s a meditation on accomplishments that come from seemingly improbable circumstances and the connections between art and science. Lewis spoke with MIT Technology Review’s deputy editor, Brian Bergstein.

Averting Disastrous Climate Change Could Depend on Unproven Technologies

Mon, 04/14/2014 - 18:01

A U.N. climate report says we’ll overshoot greenhouse gas targets, and will need new technologies to make up for it.

A U.N. climate report released on Sunday concludes that there may still be time to limit global warming to an increase of two degrees Celsius or less, which could help the world avoid the worst effects of climate change. But doing so will depend on making extraordinary changes to energy infrastructure at a much faster pace than is happening now, and may require the use of controversial and unproven technologies for pulling greenhouse gases out of the atmosphere.

Does Musk’s Gigafactory Make Sense?

Mon, 04/14/2014 - 00:00

Tesla’s audacious plan to build a giant battery factory may mostly be a clever negotiating tactic.

Lithium-ion batteries are just about everywhere—they power almost all smartphones, tablets, and laptops. Yet in three years, Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla Motors, says he intends to build a single factory in the United States that will more than double the world’s total lithium-ion battery production. The plan is still in its early stages, but already four states are negotiating with Tesla in the hope of becoming the factory’s home.