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Are 'Virtual Receptionists' a Good Idea?

The London borough of Brent is using a virtual receptionist, or hologram, to greet visitors in its new civic center. The hologram responds to questions about locations in the building, such as where to register births or where to head to apply for a marriage certificate. The virtual employee will be presented on a screen, and visitors can type in the reason for their visit and be given information on where to go or what kind of paperwork they require.

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Is a Hyperloop on the Way?

Last week, entrepreneur Elon Musk unveiled a transportation concept that he said could whisk passengers the nearly 400 miles between Los Angeles and San Francisco in 30 minutes. The theoretical Hyperloop would consist of carlike capsules traveling at more than 700 mph through enclosed tubes. The capsules, which would contain about 28 passengers each, would ride on pockets of air, propelled by a linear induction motor. Some experts, however, have concerns about development cost, energy requirements, and technical feasibility. A Hyperloop, for example, could also be a tough fit in a region with an already built-up infrastructure, because of the need to locate the tubes and pylons.

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Would You Trust a Robot to Draw Your Blood?

As medical technology advances, doctors are increasingly being assisted by robots. Tele-operated machinery like the Da Vinci system, for example, helps surgeons perform a variety of surgeries. One of the latest technologies, Veebot, is a robot phlebotomist that uses infrared light, a camera, and ultrasound to pick a good vein in a person's arm and draw blood.

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Is an "Exercise Pill" a Good Idea?

This month, researchers at the Scripps Institute in Florida found that mice injected with a protein called REV-ERB underwent physiological changes usually associated with exercise, including increased metabolic rates and weight loss. The scientists suggested that we are therefore closer than ever before to creating a pill that provides all the benefits of exercise. Many support the time-saving benefits of such a pill, as well as the obvious health advantages, but many have concerns about its effect on fitness and sports industries, as well as its effect on one’s discipline and work habits.

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Will We Travel Faster Than the Speed of Light?

NASA engineers at Johnson Space Center have been designing instruments to slightly warp the trajectory of a photon, changing the distance it travels in a certain area, and then observing the change with an interferometer. The team is experimenting with photons to see if warp drive — traveling faster than light — might one day be possible. Einstein famously postulated that the speed of light could not be exceeded. Dr. Harold G. White, a physicist and advanced propulsion engineer at NASA, however, believes that the instruments he is constructing have made render warp speed less implausible.

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Will You Ever Make Payments Using Facial Recognition Technology?

Technologies like Google Wallet allow users to walk into a store and pay for goods with the swipe of a smartphone. Now, some companies, including the Finland-based startup Unqul, are creating payment systems that use facial recognition to handle all kinds of transactions. Instead of a "wallet" or smartphone app, a customer can walk up to a register where a camera scans his or her face and matches it against the database.

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Do You Believe Humanoid Robots Can Effectively Aid Humans with Difficult and Dangerous Tasks?

A Pentagon-financed humanoid robot named Atlas made its debut last week. The hydraulically-powered robot, with its oversized chest and powerful long arms, is seen as a new tool that can help humans in natural and man-made disasters. Similarly, an upcoming DARPA Robotics Challenge will present robot builders with objectives such as driving a utility vehicle, walking over uneven terrain, clearing debris, breaking through a wall, closing a valve, and connecting a fire hose. Despite the emergence of robotic planes and self-driving cars, however, many robotics specialists believe the learning curve toward useful humanoid robots will be a steep one.

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