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Are airborne iPads a risk?

This week's Question: A growing number of airlines, including Alaska Airlines, are giving pilots the option of using iPads in the cockpit. In a flight scenario, the iPad would take the place of the hefty manuals and training documents that the Federation Aviation Administration requires pilots to have on hand. Some pilots embrace the idea of the touchscreen tablet use because they no longer have to struggle with thousands of manual pages (or changes to those pages), and they can manage and zoom in on information quickly, including aeronautical charts. Skeptics, however, say that the electronic gadget is geared toward consumers and therefore won't meet the usual stringent aircraft standards. The device, unlike paper, relies on batteries and could also be another distraction as pilots view multiple screens.   What do you think? Are airborne iPads a risk?    

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Will greater robotics initiatives hurt more than help?

This week's Question: Last month, the White House announced the National Robotics Initiative, a major program to develop next-generation robots for manufacturing, healthcare, and other areas. The robotics community received the project with enthusiasm, but some observers expressed concern about an expansion in automation. Some argue that processes carried out by robotic systems, like special surgeries and auto manufacturing tasks, are of a higher quality than those performed by a human, and they are essential for keeping companies competitive, and thus able to expand and hire more workers. Others, however, say that a greater move to automation will minimize the number of blue-collar and white-collar jobs.   What do you think? Will greater robotics initiatives hurt more than help?    

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Is there money in the moon?

This week's Question: Driven by a $30 million prize put up by Google, more  than two dozen teams have signed up for a competition to become the first  private venture to land on the Moon. That means spacecrafts could be heading out within a few years, and many entrepreneurs are developing possible ideas that could take commercial advantage of Earth's neighbor. Some say that the  endeavors are too expensive and the market is uncertain at this point, while others, including a former NASA computer scientist turned entrepreneur, say  that the numerous potential Moon business, from exclusive video feeds to  lunar lander trips, present "probably the biggest wealth creation opportunity in modern history."   Do you agree? Is there money in the moon?  

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Should we say good-bye to the incandescent light bulb?

While Congress failed to repeal light bulb efficiency standards last week, many had been debating the importance of LED bulbs and compact fluorescents. Supporters of incandescents say that the light source is cheap compared to alternatives, and its quality is fairly good. Others argue that the bulbs are inefficient, and that a move towards LEDs and flourescents will save energy in the long term and help the environment. What do you think? Should we say good-bye to the incandescent light bulb? Yes or no?

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Will 3D laptops catch on?

Last week, Toshiba unveiled a glasses-free 3D laptop, the Qosmio F750. The screen displays 2D and 3D simultaneously in separate windows. The display uses a lenticular lens sheet, capable of sending slightly different images to the left and right eye separately, thus giving the user a sense of image depth. The computer has a high-definition webcam that tracks a user's eyes and consequently shifts the image that is displayed. Some customers are excited for the expanded 3D capabilities, while others say that the technology is buggy and a three-dimensional feature is unnecessary. What do you think? Will 3D laptops catch on?

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Will we avoid a mass marine extinction?

This week's Question: In a preliminary report from the International Programme on the State of the Ocean, a scientific panel concluded that ocean degeneration is happening much faster than previously predicted, and that the combination of factors currently distressing the marine environment is contributing to the exact conditions that have been associated with all major extinctions in the Earth's history: an increase of both hypoxia (low oxygen) and anoxia (lack of oxygen that creates "dead zones") in the oceans, warming, and acidification. The researchers warn that the combination of these factors will inevitably cause a mass marine extinction if swift action isn't taken to improve conditions. What do you think? Will we avoid a mass marine extinction?

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Will “smart grid” efforts succeed?

The White House announced last week that is was planning to forge ahead with "smart grid" plans for the United States. By increasing controls technology and digital information, the effort would potentially update the American electrical transmission system to provide real-time information about the state of the grid. Supporters of the move say that by monitoring power - where, when and how it's used - consumers and power companies could store power overnight, incorporate intermittent generators like wind and solar, and generally get more bang for their buck. Skeptics, however, mention possible drawbacks in bringing IT to energy, including the security and privacy concerns of consumers whose movements on the grid could be traced and tracked by multiple parties. What do you think? Will "smart grid" efforts succeed? Yes or no?

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