How to Develop This Cutting-Edge Genetic Research Responsibly

By James P. Collins

From ancient soothsayers to Wall Street stock pickers, humans have always yearned to be able to tell the future. The ability, needless to say, has mostly been overstated.

But what if there were a sense in which you really could tell the future? And what if we could also make a particular outcome more likely, even certain? The emerging technology known as gene drives offers just such a prospect for favoring particular traits in future plants and animals—to increase agricultural output, to reduce the risk of infectious disease transmission, or something we haven’t yet imagined. Indeed, some have already suggested using gene drives to eliminate certain mosquitoes that can spread Zika, malaria, and other ailments. But is that a good idea? How should we think about employing such a technology in ways that anticipate, and weigh, its benefits and harms for current and future generations?

Read on Slate.com

The Muddled Legacy of Alvin Toffler

By David Guston

Futurist Alvin Toffler’s death on June 27 at age 87 has brought out the usual obituaries, marveling at the way his self-educated intellect grappled with the complex intertwining of technological and social change and created best-seller buzz around his predictions. The account of his life in the New York Times follows a familiar arc: from child of immigrants, to self-made man, to adviser to some of the most powerful men on the planet. His books, especially Future Shock (1970) and The Third Wave (1980), achieved required reading status among a certain set, apparently including politicians as diverse as former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and former Chinese Prime Minister Zhao Ziyang.

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How a Volcano Helped Inspire Frankenstein

By Kent Linthicum

Two hundred years ago this June, during a dreadfully cold and wet summer, Mary Shelley began writing Frankenstein. Since then Frankenstein has become iconic, spawning a legion of adaptations and reinterpretations. The Oxford English Dictionary even includes entries for the verb “to frankenstein,” which means to stitch something together in a grotesque fashion, and the prefix “franken-” to make anything monstrous. The novel is shorthand for the dangers of unfettered scientific progress.

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The Self-Driving Car Generation Gap

By Brad Allenby

On Jan. 22, 1984, one of the most famous advertisements in American history debuted during Super Bowl XVIII, the one and only time it appeared on nationwide television. Advertising the Apple Macintosh personal computer, it showed a single brave heroine outrunning the thought police to destroy ideology, conformity, and totalitarianism, and ended with the tag line “On January 24th, Apple Computer will introduce Macintosh. And you’ll see why 1984 won’t be like 1984.” It did a lot of things. It gave the Apple brand an individualistic, somewhat countercultural, flavor, which the firm retains even today, when it is one of the behemoths of the global economy. More importantly, perhaps, it provides an insight into technology systems that tells us a lot about autonomous vehicles and their likely routes of acceptance into mainstream culture.

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The Trouble With High-Tech Prosthetics

By Patrick McGurrin

You’ve probably seen the Frozen, Iron Man, and Star Wars prosthetics—intended to boost the confidence of kids with missing limbs. Now, you can even meet the first man with the Luke Skywalker arm. With today’s ever-increasing technology, some of these once fictional devices are making their way to real-life.

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Can Self-Driving Cars Share the Road With Old-School Vehicles?

By Kevin C. Desouza

When it comes to the much-anticipated advent of autonomous vehicles (so-called driverless cars, though that term isn’t completely accurate), there is good news and bad news. The good news is that autonomous vehicles will soon be driving among us. The bad news—or we could call it the challenging news—is that we will likely be in for a generation-long transitional period, when autonomous cars share the road with traditionally driven ones.

Read on Slate.com

Welcome to the Pyrocene

By Stephen J. Pyne

The images are gripping. Horizons glow with satanic reds squishing through black and bluish clouds, as though the sky itself were bruised and bleeding. Foregrounds bristle with scorched neighborhoods still drifting with smoke and streams of frightened refugees, a scene more commonly associated with war zones.

But we’ve seen this before. Big fires are big fires, and one pyrocumulus can look pretty much like another. Communities with homes burned to concrete slabs, molten hulks of what once were cars alongside roads, surrounding forests mottled with black and green— these are becoming commonplace.

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Mika Model, A New Short Story from Paolo Bacigalupi

This short story was commissioned and edited jointly by Future Tense—a collaboration among Arizona State University, New America, and Slate—and ASU’s Center for Science and the Imagination. It is the first in Future Tense Fiction, a series of short stories from Future Tense and CSI about how technology and science will change our lives.

The girl who walked into the police station was oddly familiar, but it took me a while to figure out why. A starlet, maybe. Or someone who’d had plastic surgery to look like someone famous. Pretty. Sleek. Dark hair and pale skin and wide dark eyes that came to rest on me, when Sergeant Cruz pointed her in my direction.

Read on Slate.com

Don’t Laugh at E-Sports

By Timothy Millea

You know that a cultural phenomenon has hit critical mass once a billionaire gets involved. We’ve reached that moment with e-sports, or competitive video gaming. In November, Mark Cuban publicly threw down against Intel’s CEO in the popular e-sports game League of Legends at the Intel Extreme Masters tournament. Shortly after the matchup, which Team Cuban won, Cuban blasted Colin Cowherd, then an ESPN radio host, who had dismissed professional gamers as basement-dwelling nerds while protesting ESPN2’s coverage of a major e-sports tournament.

Read on Slate.com

The Wrong Cognitive Measuring Stick

By Brad Allenby

In 1950, the brilliant mathematician and cryptographer Alan Turing began his seminal paper “Computing Machinery and Intelligence” with a simple query: “I propose to consider the question, ‘Can machines think?’ ” It is a question that still resonates today, because it is essentially incoherent and thus unanswerable.

Read on Slate.com

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