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Will We See 4D Printing Being Used in the Near Future?

MIT engineer Skylar Tibbits recently spoke at a TED conference about the promise of 4D printing. The act of 4D printing creates objects in one state that could then change to a different state over time. Without human intervention, the object alters its shape based on moisture or heat from a given environment. A 3D-printed straight line, for example, could form a cube when submerged in water. While 4D printing is still theoretical, Tibbits envisions scenarios where 4D structures assemble themselves in harsh environments without the need for humans to risk their lives.

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Are Automated Systems a Valuable Way to Grade Essays?

A recent New York Times article highlighted software from EdX, a nonprofit enterprise founded by Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. EdX software uses artificial intelligence to grade student essays and short written answers. The tool requires human teachers to first grade 100 essays, and the system then "trains itself" to assess the work accordingly. Supporters of the software say that EdX allows students to repeatedly improve their answers, without waiting days or weeks for grades. Skeptics say the automated system is no match for live teachers, and the technology can be easily fooled.

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Will Humanlike Avatars Move Toward Mainstream Use?

British scientists have created what they say is the world's most realistic human avatar. Combining facial modeling and mathematical algorithms, 'Zoe' has advanced language function and displays a range of emotions. The technology could act as an assistant to business executives or a teacher's aide, especially to hearing-impaired or autistic children. The team believes the smartphone-and tablet-friendly avatar may have cracked the "uncanny valley," the point at which human replicas come close to being realistic but still cause discomfort among people.

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Do the Benefits of Domestic Drones Outweigh Privacy Drawbacks?

Congress has ordered the Federal Aviation Administration to open up airspace to unmanned aircraft by October 2015, a decision that will likely see thousands of domestic drones soaring the sky. Many are excited about the many innovative possibilities of the autonomous technology, including its potential to track wildfires, find and rescue people, identify criminals, or map terrain. Opponents and privacy advocates, however, are concerned that they may be used for surveillance purposes and deployed to snoop on law-abiding citizens.

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Does RSS Still Matter?

Reactions ranged from outrage to apathy when Google announced that it would be shutting down its Google Reader RSS client. The search giant said that the move was due to a decline in usage. Some fans of the 'Reader' and RSS cite its centralized features and its way of organizing a user's content. Others say that RSS is confusing, and has now been replaced by new ways of receiving content, such as Twitter and other social networks. While supporters of the technology say the Google Reader exit provides an opportunity for a revitalized market for RSS products, some think its absence will hurt RSS's chances of making a comeback.

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Does Telecommuting Restrict Innovation and Productivity?

A Yahoo Inc. internal memo, which introduced a ban on working from home, has set off a debate on whether "telecommuting" and working remotely leads to greater productivity and job satisfaction, or kills creativity and is just a chance to take it easy. Supporters of this kind of ban say that the best decisions come from in-person discussion, and that remote work is often done slowly and less carefully. Many telecommuters, however, say that a remote arrangement helps people with young families or those facing long and expensive commutes. A restriction could also undermine employee trust, as working is not necessarily done in the standard 9-5 hours anymore

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Will Privacy Concerns Keep You from Using Google Glass?

As many users anticipate the arrival of Google Glass, augmented reality technology shaped like a pair of glasses, some technologists are questioning the privacy issues associated with the use of these wearable computers. Many express concern about users' ability to secretly capture audio and video. Google Glass, some fear, is another way of trading privacy and personal information for convenience. Others, however, say that the use of a smartphone's email, maps, and cameras are already a part of our everyday lives, and putting that functionality in wearable technology is inevitable.

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