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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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Do the benefits of hydraulic fracturing outweigh the risks?

According to a seismologist investigating regional earthquakes, a northeast Ohio well used to dispose of wastewater from oil and gas drilling almost certainly caused a series of 11 minor quakes. Some environmentalists are already critical of the drilling method known as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, which utilizes chemical-laced water and sand to blast deep into the ground and free shale gas. Critics fear that the drilling liquid contains carcinogens, and could contaminate water supplies. The industry-supported Ohio Oil and Gas Association, however, said the rash of quakes was "a rare and isolated event that should not cast doubt about the effectiveness" of injection wells, adding that the wells "have been used safely and reliably as a disposal method for wastewater from oil and gas operations in the U.S. since the 1930."

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Will a wider integration of robotic drone aircraft do more harm than good?

This week's Question: In January, the Federal Aviation Administration plans to outline new rules for the use of small drones, a first step in allowing police departments, farmers, and other agencies to employ the technology. The drones could be used for air support to spot criminals, monitor pipelines, or even spray crops, for example. The FAA has issued 266 active testing permits for civilian drone applications, but hasn't permitted wide-scale drone use in national airspace out of concern that the pilotless craft lack adequate "detect, sense and avoid" technology to prevent midair collisions. Other concerns include privacy and the ways that criminals and terrorists could use the devices. What do you think? Will a wider integration of robotic drone aircraft do more harm than good?

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Are geo-engineering efforts a promising way to address climate change?

This week's Question: A report released last week in London and addressed at the U.N. climate conference in South Africa said that reflecting a small amount of sunlight back into space before it strikes the Earth's surface would theoretically have an immediate effect on the planet's climate. This kind of geo-engineering and solar radiation management, some say, would be a more cost-effective and efficient way to combat global warming, and would be less disruptive of business activity. Geo-engineering the planet's climate, however, needs further research, and skeptics say that political concerns and unknown side effects, including changing weather patterns and rainfall, are too much of a risk. What do you think? Are geo-engineering efforts a promising way to address climate change?

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Will the rover reveal that Mars might once have been hospitable for microbial life — or might even still be conducive to life?

This week's Question: The Curiosity rover, NASA's biggest extraterrestrial explorer, was launched toward Mars last week. The mobile laboratory, 10 feet long by 9 feet wide, will search for evidence that the planet was once hospitable to microbrial life. The device's on-board instruments are designed to hunt for organic compounds. What do you think? Will the rover reveal that Mars might once have been hospitable for microbial life — or might even still be conducive to life?

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Will we be able to design an "operating system" for a living biological cell?

This week's Question: As part of a five-year, $1.58 million research project named AudACiOus, a group of University of Nottingham scientists will attempt to program the genetic components of a cell to perform any desired function, without requiring extensive modification to the cell. If successful, the team would develop a cell's equivalent of a computer operating system, which could be re-programmed with different "applications" and serve as an easier method for creating new life forms. Researchers say the project could lead to the creation of completely new cellular life forms that could do anything from cleaning up pollutants in the environment to detecting and treating viruses before they enter the human body. Although there have been successes in the bioengineering field, the manipulation of cell parts to run a reprogrammable "cellular operating system" remains a laborious and expensive endeavor. Additionally, it is difficult to predict the behavior of cells in a laboratory environment. What do you think? Will we be able to design an "operating system" for a living biological cell?

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