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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.

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The Real Zootopia

By Ben Minteer

As Zootopia, the latest Disney digital extravaganza, opens on thousands of screens across the country this weekend, another Zootopia remains “in production” in Europe. The animals in this version will be largely unscripted, far less humanlike, and undeniably analog. But its theatrical ambitions will be much the same.

The other Zootopia is a 300-acre expansion of Denmark’s Givskud Zoo proposed by architect Bjarke Ingels and his firm, BIG. A creative mashup of immersive zoo and safari park, Zootopia has been described as a radical reboot of the tired zoo concept: a nearly wall-less and cage-less landscape in which the animals roam relatively freely in multispecies habitats. The first phase of the new park is planned to open in 2019.

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Algorithms Are Like Kirk, Not Spock

By Ed Finn

When technologists describe their hotshot new system for trading stocks or driving cars, the algorithm at its heart always seems to emerge from a magical realm of Spock-like rationality and mathematical perfection. Algorithms can save lives or make money, the argument goes, because they are built on the foundations of mathematics: logical rigor, conceptual clarity, and utter consistency. Math is perfect, right? And algorithms are made out of math.

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Can Genetic Engineering Stop Zika? A Future Tense Event Recap

By Torie Bosch

It’s easy to forget that the Zika virus—which has been linked to microcephaly in fetuses, paralysis, and miscarriage, among other things—burst onto the international scene mere weeks ago. In that time, as the news of the virus has spread around the globe—and, so, too, has fear that the virus’s territory may expand from Latin America to the United States and elsewhere, carried primarily by the Aedes aegypti mosquito. In tandem with reports about the virus’ potential effects and research into the vaccine, there have been calls to use technology to modify or even eradicate mosquitoes to save human lives.

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Three-Parent Children Are Already Here

By Shane Kula

This month, headlines have been filled with speculation about the social and ethical implications of “three-parent” children—that is, children born containing DNA from two mothers and one father through a set of in vitro fertilization procedures known as mitochondrial manipulation technologies. These technologies have been sought out to combat a host of inherited disorders affecting the mitochondria—small, energy-producing structures inside our cells. Disorders of the mitochondria are most likely to strike children, attacking the parts of the body that need energy most, such as the brain, muscles, heart, and liver. These diseases tend to be fatal before adulthood and impact 1 out of every 1,000 children in the United States alone. People like Sharon Bernardi, a British mother who has lost seven children to mitochondrial disease, says, “I have babies in three different cemeteries. … Without a heartbeat I would have gone for [MMT] … I hope people take it seriously and it’s approved.”

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“Are We Alone in the Universe?” Is the Wrong Question

By Evgenya Shkolnik

We’ve been asking ourselves “Are we alone?” for millennia. Greek philosopher Anaximander (circa 610–circa 546 B.C.) is credited with starting the discussion about “cosmic plurality”—the idea of multiple or even an infinite number of planets exists with extraterrestrial life.

This philosophical-turned-scientific question is still fashionable—but it’s time to stop asking it. The answer has always been staring us in the face. No. We are not alone. Of course, as a scientist, I cannot say this with 100-percent certainty, but experience suggests that this is the reality.

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The Anthropocene: Great Marketing, Wrong Product

By Brad Allenby

It was in 2011 that the Economist, a publication usually known for arcane speculation on geopolitics and economics, welcomed its readers to the Anthropocene and warned that humans had “changed the way the world works.” The drumbeat behind the concept has continued, recently receiving new momentum with the release in the Jan. 8 issue of the journal Science of a report by the Anthropocene Working Group of the Subcommission on Quaternary Stratigraphy of the International Commission on Stratigraphy with the catchy title “The Anthropocene Is Functionally and Stratigraphically Distinct From the Holocene.” News outlets such as the BBC provided extensive coverage.

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This Is Not the Fourth Industrial Revolution

By Elizabeth Garbee

In the opening session of the World Economic Forum’s meeting last week in Davos, founder and executive chairman Klaus Schwab said, “We must develop a comprehensive and globally shared view of how technology is affecting our lives and reshaping our economic, social, cultural, and human environments. There has never been a time of greater promise, or greater peril.”

This observation serves as the core of what he and other world leaders are terming “the Fourth Industrial Revolution,” the theme of this year’s wintry summit in Switzerland. Building on the German government’s “Industry 4.0,” the current national strategy for “smart” factories integrating physical manufacturing with the Internet of Things, Schwab and the WEF argue that the coming years—likely littered with 3-D printers and designer babies—will mark the beginning of a revolution unlike any we have ever experienced, unique for its scale, scope, and complexity.

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How a Celebrity’s Silly Belief in Flat Earth Can Be Useful

By Lawrence Krauss

I was going to start this piece by asking how it could be that in the 21st century anyone who can put on his or her own shoes in the morning could honestly think the Earth is flat. But we live in a world where Donald Trump appears to be the front-runner for the Republican nomination for president, so I guess anything is possible.

In any case, the Internet has been buzzing this week since the rapper B.o.B started tweeting about his belief in a flat Earth. Sensing an in, Neil deGrasse Tyson produced some disparaging countertweets, and then even got his nephew to produce a rap piece featuring Tyson making fun of flat-Earthers like B.o.B.

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The Good, Bad, and Ugly Approaches to Geoengineering

By Christophe Jospe

Picture yourself driving a bus up a mountain. As you near the top, you can see the road on the downhill side—and you realize your brakes are broken. As the seriousness of the problem sinks in, you take your feet off the gas and swerve a bit to slow down. Had you slowed earlier in your climb, you might have been able to stop at the top, but now it is too late. You committed to going downhill. At least you are alive to make a last-ditch attempt to save yourself and the other passengers on board.

We find ourselves in a similar situation in the global efforts to address climate change. As manmade carbon dioxide emissions accumulate in the atmosphere, it is all but certain that concentrations will exceed safe limits, sending us over a tipping point without any brakes.

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