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.

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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.

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Killer Robots on the Battlefield

By Heather M. Roff

On April 11, member states at the United Nations will meet at another informal meeting of experts under the auspices of the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons, a treaty that prohibits weapons deemed to have indiscriminate effects or to cause excessive injury. They are meeting for the third time in Geneva to consider whether to preemptively ban autonomous weapons—or, more colloquially, “killer robots.” As the member states gear up to hear another five days of testimony from experts—of which I am one—it would be a useful exercise to consider the thinking behind creating and deploying autonomous weapons.

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What Wearable Manufacturers Think Women Want

By Jacqueline Wernimont

If you’re looking to get away from athletics-inspired wearables, there are more options than ever, especially for women. You can preorder a reusable menstrual cup that requires a Bluetooth antenna to extend outside of the vagina at all times. (Just don’t wear it through an airport security screening.) A nearly $500 MICA smart bracelet, plated in snakeskin and gold and set with semiprecious stones, will let you keep up on email and text messages (provided you pay the annual data fees). You can hang a jeweled security charm from Stiletto on your favorite necklace—the charm promises a safe lifestyle by sharing your location information, indoor or out, with others. Or you can insert a speaker into your vagina to play music for an embryo or fetus.

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Webcams Are for the Birds

By Michelle Sullivan

There are three main topics of conversation you can have with my grandfather: 1) college sports, 2) Iowa weather, and 3) the Decorah Eagles.

The Decorah Eagles, a bald-eagle pair and their offspring who nest in Decorah, Iowa, every spring and summer, became an Internet phenomenon in 2011. That year more than 200 million people tuned in to live-stream footage of the eagles raising their eaglets from eggs to young adults. Since the cam’s 2007 installation, the birds have become a pop culture sensation. PBS featured them in a 2008 Nature documentary, “American Eagle,” and the eagles were the focus of Wired Science’s most popular post of 2011, which received so much traffic the website crashed. The Decorah Eagles have even inspired a question on Jeopardy! in the category “webcams.”

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We Need to Keep Talking About Nanotechnology Safety

By Andrew Maynard

Back in 2008, carbon nanotubes—exceptionally fine tubes made up of carbon atoms—were making headlines. A new study from the U.K. had just shown that, under some conditions, these long, slender fiberlike tubes could cause harm in mice in the same way that some asbestos fibers do.

As a collaborator in that study, I was at the time heavily involved in exploring the risks and benefits of novel nanoscale materials. Back then, there was intense interest in understanding how materials like this could be dangerous, and how they might be made safer.

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This Is What Happens When You Try to Print Out the Entirety of Wikipedia

By Jim O’Donnell

How big is Wikipedia?  How many printed volumes would it take to put all of the online encyclopedia on a library’s shelves? I’m only asking about the 5 million or so articles in the English language version—there’s at least that many more in other languages.

Now we know, thanks to an artistic installation by New York artist Michael Mandiberg, first seen at the Elizabeth Denny Gallery on the Lower East Side last summer and now moved into the bright lights of a real library—the stacks of the Arizona State University Library in Tempe.

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Know Thy Enemy

By Paulo Shakarian

“Offense dominated.” In cyber security, this phrase refers to an attacker’s inherent advantage over the defender. The unwanted guest needs only to find a single flaw in a system to gain access. It also presents the defender as the hapless little Dutch boy—trying in vain to harden every aspect of the IT infrastructure. The idea of “offense dominated,” with its strong, ruthless attacker and weak victim, is a simple one. And it delivers a discouraging message to practitioners.

Read on Slate.com

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