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Are there risks in 'hacking' our own biology?

Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation (TDCS), a deep brain stimulation technique, uses electrodes to direct tiny painless currents across the brain. The currents are thought to improve the firing of neurons and the forming of connections that enable learning. The technique has shown potential in strengthening language skills, math ability, and even memory. A recent Oxford paper, however, argues that the risks of TDCS method must be more carefully considered before the research resumes. Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation joins a group of other promising technologies aimed to enhance cognition, including generic engineering and brain-to-computer interfacing. Some skeptics say these types of techniques are perhaps unfair and go against human nature.

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The Future of Quantum Computing

Using a single phosphorus atom embedded in a silicon crystal, physicists have built a working transistor, laying the groundwork for a quantum computer that is smaller than today's silicon-based machines, and may one day function in nanoscale environments. Quantum computers may make it possible to quickly simulate molecular structures, a promising advance for designing new drugs and other materials. While some say that the research is a major step toward a functioning quantum computing system, others are uncertain if a quantum computer will be harnessed for useful tasks. The physicists’ work also demonstrated fundamental limits that today's computers would be able to shrink to.

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Will hovering aircraft become commonplace?

A new study led by Jun Zhang, a Professor at NYU's Courant Institute, determined that hovering in mid-air might actually depend more on weight distribution than once thought. The researchers used pyramid-shaped paper "bugs," which were kept afloat in a stream of blown air. Contrary to common perception about flight stability, the top-heavy structures flew in a more stable fashion than the bottom-heavy ones. The study may offer realistic, new design principles for hovering aircraft and more maneuverable flapping-wing robots.

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Will a majority of consumers wear "smart clothing?"

A team of researchers from Ecole Polytechnique de Montreal in Canada has focused on making soft versions of multitouch screens, batteries, microchip transistors, and other electronics. Those technologies could lead to "smart clothing" that, for example, monitors a person's health signs, or even acts as a wearable computer. The researchers wove signal-conducting fibers into an experimental touchpad that showed off partial multitouch capability similar to what smartphones or tablets feature. Although smart clothing may seem just around the corner, manufacturers are hesitant to work with completely new fibers, and the soft textile version of transistors are also difficult to build.

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Should more of an effort be made sending signals to space?

According to a New York Times article, a band of astronomers recently restarted the search for extraterrestrial life, after an appeal for financing. Last spring, the University of California’s Hat Creek observatory, a collection of radio telescopes that listen for radio broadcasts of alien civilizations, had been shut down due to politics and a lack of financing. In order to continue the search, astronomers are negotiating a deal to share the telescopes with the Air Force. A reaction from an antenna could be enough to determine whether life exists elsewhere in the universe.

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Should the internet piracy bills be used to combat online trafficking in copyrighted intellectual property?

Senate and House leaders announced last week that they are postponing work on two controversial anti-piracy bills, the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the (PIPA) Protect IP Act, in the wake of large online protests that spurred some congressmen to rethink the legislation. Supporters of the bills, which include major media and entertainment companies, say their intention is to go after foreign websites that distribute unauthorized copies of software, videos, and music. Opponents in the tech industry, however, say that the language in the bills is too broad, and that they could pose a threat to free speech and stifle innovation. Also, the legislation, some claim, could give sites the difficult task of being responsible for all content or links posted by their users. Those in favor of the bill say that the laws protect content providers’ intellectual property, along with corresponding jobs and revenue.

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Will there be mass acceptance of the electric and hybrid vehicles before 2025?

Despite uncertainty, automakers are still making a big push for electric vehicles in 2012. Ford, for example, will have five such cars by the end the year, including the 2013 Ford Fusion hybrid and 2013 Ford Fusion Energi plug-in electric, which were both shown at last week's Detroit auto show. Although hybrid and electric car sales have been on the rise in recent years, some say consumer demand could wane, especially due to low gas prices and cheaper technology that favors internal combustion engines. EV-friendly tax credits have also expired. In 2025, Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) regulations will force automakers to make cars that attain 54.5 miles per gallon on average.

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