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Can a global ban on producing nuclear weapons material be enforced?

This week’s question concerns nuclear weapons. Diplomats from 65 countries are meeting at the United Nations Conference on Disarmament in Geneva this week to discuss beginning talks on a possible treaty that would stop nations from producing plutonium and highly enriched uranium – key materials used in nuclear weapons. Proponents believe such a treaty would limit the ability of countries to manufacture and stockpile future nuclear weapons. Critics point to a number of issues, such as who should pay for inspections to ensure compliance, how to detect if countries are cheating or secretly producing material, and what should be done about existing stockpiles of nuclear fissure materials. What do you think? Can a global ban on producing nuclear weapons material be enforced? Yes or no?

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Can tablet computers make greater inroads in the PC market?

This week’s question concerns tablet computers. Apple Computer is strongly rumored to soon unveil a tablet computer able to play music and video, read E-books, and provide Internet access. Several PC makers, including Motorola and Hewlett-Packard, also demonstrated tablet computers at the recent Consumer Electronics Show. While tablet computer proponents believe these devices can carve out a market niche, skeptics say tablet computers will have difficulty competing in a market crowded with netbooks and smartphones as well as laptops and PCs. What do you think? Can tablet computers make greater inroads in the PC market? Yes or no?

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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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