Citizen Science Isn’t Just About Collecting Data

By Jason Lloyd

The earthquake near Washington, D.C., five years ago in August 2011—the one that damaged the Washington Monument and the National Cathedral but had little other noticeable impact—caught me by surprise. Sitting in an office on the 12th floor of a building downtown, I thought it might have been an improbably large truck on the street below, until a co-worker suggested we probably ought to leave the building. We spent the rest of that sunny afternoon milling around with other office workers before calling it a day and heading to happy hour.

What I did not do, but really wish that I had, was enter a description of my experience into the U.S. Geological Survey’s crowdsourcing initiative, Did You Feel It? The system collects data from people who have felt tremors to determine the extent and intensity of earthquakes in near-real time. The submitted data are used in the USGS ShakeMaps, which help organizations like the Federal Emergency Management Agency prepare for and respond to earthquakes.

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What Do You Think About Scientists Creating Human-Nonhuman Hybrids?

By Andrew Maynard

The U.S. National Institutes of Health wants to support responsible research into human-nonhuman hybrids, and they’d like your help. Sort of.

On Aug. 4, the NIH proposed two changes to the way the agency will oversee research using human stem cells in nonhuman primates. Policy changes like these are required to go out for public review and comment before being implemented, so we’re now entering a 30-day public comment period—everyone with opinions on research into combining humans with other animals has a chance to have his or her say.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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