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Should whole body imaging be used for airport security?

The first Question of the Week for 2010 concerns airline security. The recent foiled attempt by a Nigerian terrorist to set off a bomb aboard a Northwest Airlines flight landing in Detroit has renewed concerns that current X-ray technology is insufficient in detecting concealed weapons and substances. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) already has a pilot program in place at six airports deploying millimeter-wave machines, which produce a 3-D image of the body, in place of X-ray machines. But some government officials worry these machines violate the privacy of individuals such as women and children. What do you think? Should whole body imaging be used for airport security? Yes or no?

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Should business methods be eligible for patents?

This week's question concerns patent law. Traditionally, the courts have limited patent eligibility to inventions that involve machinery or physical transformations. Increasingly, innovations in the areas of software, medical diagnostics, and finance have raised questions concerning the eligibility of these inventions for patents because they may not deal directly with machinery or physical processes. Earlier this month, the Supreme Court heard the case of two individuals seeking patent protection for a business method of hedging risk in buying energy. On the opposing side, the attorney for the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office argued that though innovative business techniques "may be valuable ... they are not patent eligible because they don't deal in the realm of the physical." What do you think? Should business methods be eligible for patents?

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Are space elevators a viable concept?

This week’s question concerns space elevators. Last week, during NASA’s Space Elevator Games in the Mojave Desert, a robot powered by a ground-based laser beam scampered up a 2,953 foot cable suspended from a helicopter hovering almost a mile overhead. The trip took just over four minutes. The achievement, some say, brings us one step closer to making the concept of space elevators a reality. For those not familiar with the concept, a space elevator would consist of an electrically powered vehicle that can travel up and down a cable that is anchored to Earth and suspended from a mass placed in geosynchronous orbit thousands of miles above the Earth. Power for the elevator would be provided by ground-based lasers aimed at photovoltaic cells mounted on the underside of the vehicle. Although it may sound fanciful, proponents of the theory believe that, with certain technological advances, it’s completely feasible. What do you think? Are space elevators a viable concept?

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Is technology making people too self-absorbed?

This week’s question concerns the impact technology is having on society. Technology has made it possible for people to share every aspect of their lives - both the good and the bad – with the entire world. The insatiable desire of some people to reach out and touch each other has made Web sites like Twitter, Facebook, MySpace and YouTube phenomenally successful. Now a UK-based company called Vicon is developing a small camera, called the ViconRevue, that can be worn around the neck and automatically take pictures every 30 seconds, virtually documenting every moment of your life. The pendant-size camera, which was originally designed to help Alzheimer’s patients, can store about 30,000 images on a 1GB memory card and should be in stores next year. Fans of the concept think it’s the coolest tech-toy since the camera phone, while critics call it proof-positive that society as a whole is becoming too self-absorbed. What do you think? Is technology making people too self-absorbed?

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Will Microsoft’s Windows 7 succeed?

This week’s question concerns Microsoft’s Windows 7 operating system. Microsoft released the new operating system last week to generally more favorable reviews than its bug-laden, slow-selling Vista predecessor. While Microsoft claims Windows 7 resolves many of Vista’s flaws, skeptics contend the software giant faces stiffening competition from Apple and open-source software based on Linux, as well as reluctance from users of older Windows versions to upgrade. What do you think? Will Microsoft’s Windows 7 succeed? Yes or no?

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Should net neutrality rules be imposed on broadband service providers?

This week’s question concerns net neutrality. The Federal Communications Commission last week began drafting legislation that would prevent phone and cable companies from abusing their control over the broadband access market, by prohibiting them from censoring certain kinds of Internet traffic. Proponents say the rules are needed to ensure that broadband subscribers can access all legal Web sites and services and prevent service providers from engaging in anti-competitive practices. Opponents argue such regulations would make it more difficult for broadband providers to manage as well as expand their networks. What do you think? Should net neutrality rules be imposed on broadband service providers? Yes or no?

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Should there be a mandate to buy health insurance?

This week’s question concerns the health-care reform bill. One of the controversial bill’s provisions, now in Congressional debate, revolves around an escalating series of fines that would be imposed on individuals refusing to purchase health insurance. The fines, slated to take effect starting in 2013, would start at $200 and eventually rise to $750 - far lower than the $5,000 average yearly health insurance premium for an individual. Health insurers contend the low fines would create a disincentive for individuals to buy costly insurance, thus forcing insurers to raise rates to cover costs. What do you think? Should there be a mandate to buy health insurance? Yes or no?

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