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Is it possible to empathize with robots as we do with humans?

This week's Question: According to a recent study by researchers in Japan, our brain's empathetic reaction toward humanoid robots in perceived pain is similar to that toward humans in the same situation. The researchers hooked up 15 healthy adults to electroencephalography (EEG) monitors and then showed them dozens of color pictures of either a human or robotic hand in painful and non-painful situations. Event-related brain potentials for empathy toward humanoid robots in perceived pain were similar to those for empathy toward humans in pain. With humans and robots collaborating more closely and more often than ever before, what do you think? Is it possible to empathize with robots as we do with humans?  

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Will jetpacks ever become a viable means of transport?

This week's Question: Dubai's civil defence force has agreed to a deal with Martin Aircraft, the New Zealand-based creator of a single-person jetpacks. Dubai has announced an initial order for up to 20 Martin jetpacks, plus simulators and a training package, for delivery next year. Lt Col Ali Hassan Almutawa, director of the Dubai Civil Defence Operations Department, told the BBC that the packs would be used for first-responder roles, including reconnaissance and rescue. Some critics, however, say it will be a long time before jetpacks are quiet enough, and fuel-efficient enough, to make them practical for general use. What do you think? Will jetpacks ever become a viable means of transport?

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Will Robot Taxis Take the Streets by 2020?

This week's Question: Japan’s cabinet office and the Tokyo-based Robot Taxi Inc. said they will start experimenting with an unmanned taxi service beginning in 2016. The transportation will be offered for approximately 50 people in Southern Tokyo, with the autonomous car bringing users from their homes to local grocery stores. Robot Taxi aims to commercialize its driverless service by 2020, when Tokyo will host the Olympics. The main challenges facing the robotic taxis will be getting autonomous driving to work on local roads (and not just highways), acquiring precise maps, and receiving regulatory permission for the fleet.   What do you think? Will Robot Taxis Take the Streets by 2020?

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Will virtual air-traffic control replace traditional towers?

This week’s Question: On Oct. 1, Colorado’s Fort Collins-Loveland airport was approved as the first testing ground for the Federal Aviation Administration’s own virtual air-traffic control tower system. Through a system of computers, cameras, and recording devices, human controllers would be able to sit in front of a wall of liquid-crystal displays and guide flights from many miles away. The concept, some experts say, will add efficiency and safety at sprawling urban airports where increasing air traffic places ever-greater demands on human controllers. The remote systems also allow airports without towers to avoid the time and expense of building them, yet still attract airlines that want federally approved air control. “I do think one day it could replace traditional visual control towers almost completely,” said Paul Jones, operations manager at the U.K.’s National Air Traffic Service (NATS), which provides air navigation at Heathrow and a dozen other British airports. What do you think? Will virtual air-traffic control replace traditional towers?

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Do the benefits of drone registration outweigh the drawbacks?

This week's Question: Last week, the U.S. Transportation Department and Federal Aviation Administration announced that drone hobbyists will have to register their aircraft or face unspecified penalties. The move is an attempt to prevent the unmanned aircraft from compromising air safety, as the number of complaints about errant flyers has grown in recent months. Challenges remain, however, including which drones will require registration, how users will register the devices, and whether the policy will apply to devices that have already been sold or have been 3D-printed. What do you think? Do the benefits of drone registration outweigh the drawbacks?  

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Is robo-journalism valuable?

This week's Question: Lars Eidnes, a Norwegian developer, recently created software that uses Recurrent Neural Networks (RNN)—a form of “deep learning”—to write new "clickbait” headlines. After training the software with several million articles from BuzzFeed, Gawker, Jezebel, the Huffington Post, and Upworthy, Eidnes created an entire auto-generated news site called Click-o-Tron, which paired the headlines with photos and short articles, also assembled by the neural network. In early 2015, The Verge reported that the Associated Press has an automated system producing around 3,000 stories per quarter. The Los Angeles Times similarly uses its “Quakebot” algorithm to write short earthquake reports, and Google is finding headlines from newspapers like the Daily Mail to teach its neural networks to parse language. What do you think? Is robo-journalism valuable? 

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Is "neuromarketing" valuable for consumers?

This week’s Question: Last week, Japanese retailer Uniqlo debuted UMood, a brain-wave analysis system designed to match the right T-shirt to a specific customer. After the shopper puts on an electroencephalography (EEG) headset, the technology's algorithm employs five metrics — interest, like, concentration, stress, and drowsiness — to measure the user's response to a set of videos, and tries to best find a design that corresponds with the user's mood. Uniqlo used surveys to map its more than 600 T-shirt styles and colors to various mood territories. What do you think? Is “neuromarketing” valuable for consumers?

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