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These Robots Act Differently When You're Around

April 19, 2016 Self-driving cars are famously cautious. This is, of course, by design. And it’s part of why Google’s fleet of driverless cars has caused only one (minor) accident over the course of six years and more than 1.4 million miles of autonomous driving. But this fastidiousness is also what fuels skepticism...

Should We Feed the Trolls?

April 18, 2016 Let’s get this out of the way first: The Internet is the real world. What you say online is still you saying something—even if you’re shielded by an anonymous account; even if you’re saying it just to be provocative, or performative, or God only knows why else. You on the...

From Phonographs to iPhones: An American History of Gadget-Buying

April 5, 2016 If you want to get deep—and I mean really, really deep—into the technological buying patterns of the American consumer, one of the best places to start is the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Not only has the agency tracked purchasing habits since the Consumer Price Index began in 1913, but its...

Technology, the Faux Equalizer

March 31, 2016 Just over a century ago, an electric company in Minnesota took out a full-page newspaper advertisement and listed 1,000 uses for electricity. Bakers could get ice-cream freezers and waffle irons! Hat makers could put up electric signs! Paper-box manufacturers could use glue pots and fans! Then there were the at-home...

Why Do Most Digital Assistants Have Feminine Names?

March 30, 2016 The whole point of having a digital assistant is to have it do stuff for you. You’re supposed to boss it around. But it still sounds like a bit of a reprimand whenever I hear someone talking to an Amazon Echo. The monolithic voice-activated digital assistant will, when instructed, play...

The People Who Built the Atomic Bomb

March 28, 2016 I could just tell you about Leona Woods Marshall Libby. I could tell you about how, at 23 years old, she was one of the youngest people to work on the Manhattan Project. And how she was the only woman at Hanford, the first full-scale plutonium reactor in the world,...

Why the Future Needs Huggable Robots

March 24, 2016 Robots have a reputation for being made of cold, hard, metal. It’s an image that’s been reinforced by Rosie Jetson, C-3PO, Marvin, Bender and any number of humanoid machines in popular culture. Plenty of real-world robots look this way, too. With steel torsos and rigid limbs, most robots aren’t exactly...

Driverless-Car Makers on Privacy: Just Trust Us

March 24, 2016 A self-driving car is, in the words of the roboticist Missy Cummings, “one, big data-gathering machine.” Which, on one hand, is great: For driverless cars to work, they have to slurp up huge streams of sensory data about the world around them. But these vehicles will also collect reams of...

What Exactly is a Robot?

March 22, 2016 The year is 2016. Robots have infiltrated the human world. We built them, one by one, and now they are all around us. Soon, there will be many more of them, working alone and in swarms. One is no larger than a single grain of rice, while another is larger...

Self-Driving Cars and the Looming Privacy Apocalypse

March 21, 2016 Allow me to join you, if I may, on your morning commute sometime in the indeterminate future. Here we are, stepping off the curb and into the backseat of a vehicle. As you close the car door behind you, the address of your office—our destination—automatically appears on a screen embedded...