Category: Science

Human-like AI is dangerous for society

The voice on the other end of the phone sounded just a little too human. In May, Google shocked the world with a demo of Duplex, its AI robocall assistant for accomplishing real-world tasks. The system can do things that you, as a busy person, might have little time or patience for, like booking a hair appointment or a restaurant…

The Moral Dilemma of Pet Food

When my boyfriend and I got our first cat, Pete, a long-legged tuxedo, we fed him Friskies. Depending on the type of person you are, you either breezed through that sentence finding nothing remarkable, or you immediately judged me for buying pet food—ahem, pet “food”— made of ground-up chicken bones, beef tallow, soybean hulls, and other delightful byproducts. I know…

Scientists Have Uncovered a Disturbing Climate Change Precedent

They were strange days at the beginning of the age of mammals. The planet was still hungover from the astonishing disappearance of its marquee superstars, the dinosaurs. Earth’s newest crater was still a smoldering system of hydrothermal vents, roiling under the Gulf of Mexico. In the wake of Armageddon our shell-shocked ancestors meekly negotiated new roles on a planet they…

America in peril

The American West is once again on fire. Huge blazes in California have destroyed over 1,500 homes and killed at least eight people, with others raging in Colorado, Washington, and Oregon. Overall, fires burn twice as many acres today as 30 years ago. Wildfires are also raging across Europe, with fires 43 percent above average. At least 70 people in…

The great Chinese dinosaur boom

Not long ago in northeastern China, I found myself being driven in a Mercedes-Benz SUV down a winding country road, trailed by a small motorcade of local dignitaries, past flat-roofed brick farmhouses and fields full of stubbled cornstalks. Abruptly, we arrived at our destination, and my guide, Fangfang, slipped out of her high heels into fieldwork gear: pink sneakers with…

Why You Lie to Yourself

I am staring at a photograph of myself that shows me 20 years older than I am now. I have not stepped into the twilight zone. Rather, I am trying to rid myself of some measure of my present bias, which is the tendency people have, when considering a trade-off between two future moments, to more heavily weight the one…

SpaceX Pulls Ahead of Boeing in the Race to Fly American Astronauts

On Friday morning, NASA will show off four of its veteran astronauts at an event at Johnson Space Center in Houston: two U.S. Air Force colonels, one U.S. Marine colonel, and one U.S. Navy captain. They all have advanced science and engineering degrees. They’ve been working for NASA since 2000 or earlier. They’ve flown to the International Space Station. And,…