The future has arrived
August 28, 2015

Meteorologists get a lot of flak for getting the weather wrong, but 10 years ago, one meteorologist made a forecast that was eerily prescient. As Hurricane Katrina brewed in the Gulf of Mexico, National Weather Service meteorologist Robert Ricks of Slidell, Louisiana, predicted that it would be "a most powerful hurricane with unprecedented strength...rivaling the intensity of Hurricane Camille of 1969."

Unfortunately, Ricks' prediction was largely ignored in the run-up to the hurricane. As he told NBC News years later, "I would much rather have been wrong in this one. I would much rather be talking to you and taking the heat and crying wolf. But our local expertise said otherwise."

It wasn't just the strength of the hurricane that Ricks predicted either — he also forecasted the breadth of damage the monstrous storm eventually wreaked. Ricks wrote:

"Most of the area will be uninhabitable for weeks...perhaps longer. At least one half of well constructed homes will have roof and wall failure. All gabled roofs will fail...leaving those homes severely damaged or destroyed.

The majority of industrial buildings will become non functional. Partial to complete wall and roof failure is expected. All wood framed low rising apartment buildings will be destroyed. Concrete block low rise apartments will sustain major damage...including some wall and roof failure.

High rise office and apartment buildings will sway dangerously...A few to the point of a total collapse. All windows will blow out." [Twitter]

Ricks went on to detail the spread of airborne debris and its devastating effects: a power outage that "will last for weeks," and water shortages that "will make human suffering incredible by modern standards." For once, it would've been nice if the weatherman had been wrong. Becca Stanek

May 15, 2015

Self-driving cars will be here before you know it.

Google announced in a blog post Friday that its first self-driving cars will hit the road this summer. They'll start out on the roads near Mountain View, California, the home of Google's headquarters. The cars have already been tested in Nevada as well as California.

Don't expect anything too fast or furious, though: Since the prototype cars lack airbags and other required safety features, they'll only travel 25 miles per hour, though the cars will include features that allow drivers to take control if anything goes wrong. Eventually, Google co-founder Sergey Brin says he hopes the cars will be able to eliminate the most common crash risk — human error — entirely, though he says there's still a ways to go before that happens.

 Check out the cars in Google's video below. —Meghan DeMaria

January 21, 2015

Microsoft has built a wireless holographic headset that may compete with products like Google Glass, the company announced at a Windows 10 event Wednesday.

The headset, called HoloLens, has its own CPU and wouldn't need to be paired with a computer or phone. A user would be able to see both real images and digital 3D graphics.

The headset's holographic technology is said to be built into Windows 10, though the company did not specify when the HoloLens would be on sale to the general public. But will it look any less nerdy on your face than Google Glass? Check out their trippy promo video and see for yourself. —Julie Kliegman

October 10, 2014

On Thursday night, Elon Musk "unveiled the 'D,'" a.k.a. Tesla's new "dual-motor" in its Model S sedan.

While the car isn't self-driving, it does have an "autopilot" setting, which allows the car to read speed limit signs, turn corners, and park itself without input from the driver. The autopilot mode uses radar technology to create a "protective cocoon" to shield the vehicle from road obstacles.

The Model S also has acceleration that's faster than most Lamborghini models — it can go from zero to 60 mph in just 3.2 seconds. Check out the Model S in action, including a pretty amazing demonstration of the autopilot mode, in the video below. --Meghan DeMaria

October 9, 2014

Late-night musical guest spots: Not just for humans anymore!

The musical guest on last night's Late Show with David Letterman was Hatsune Miku, a Japanese CGI anime character and "virtual idol" who performed as a hologram. Despite being the personification of a "vocaloid," or a singing-voice synthesizer, she's already opened for Lady Gaga and played her songs "live" in arenas around Japan. Still, the performance was likely a bit perplexing for American audiences — Dave appeared to be grinning through embarrassed confusion while thanking the computer and the band at the end. At the very least, the Late Show's bookers should be applauded for having an open mind. --Samantha Rollins

July 28, 2014

What if there were a way to keep endangered species from going extinct?

That's the hope of a new project at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute in Front Royal, Va. Researchers at the institute are putting information about animals threatened by extinction in a "stud book" and chronicling their lives from birth in order to gain as much insight as possible into each animal's family tree.

"We analyze the... birth rate and death rate to predict how many offspring they'll have in a given year," Sarah Long, director of the Population Management Center at the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, told The Washington Post. "We need to plan for that and produce more births. We do the family tree to determine who should mate with whom to avoid inbreeding."

The Washington Post reports that zoos face three core challenges with their animals: maintaining populations without allowing inbreeding, replacing animals without diminishing the population in the wild, and replenishing the hundreds of species of threatened and endangered animals that are disappearing. To combat these challenges, more than 400 biologists and researchers are dedicated to completing the stud books.

In addition to encouraging animals to breed naturally, zoos are attempting to freeze animal semen to be used as many as 10 years later. The Post reports that in some cases, scientists have even taken semen samples from the animals after their deaths. The Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute is currently studying and breeding 22 animal species, from the Mongolian Przewalski's horse to the American black-footed ferret.

Barbara Durrant, a reproductive physiologist at the Frozen Zoo of semen and biological material at the San Diego Zoo, told the Post that the research is "correcting what human interference has caused" in the animal kingdom. Meghan DeMaria

June 13, 2014

Nothing can travel through the space-time continuum faster than the speed of light.

NASA engineer and physicist Harold White announced in 2012 that he was working on an idea that squeezes the space-time continuum itself to make space travel faster than the speed of light, like in Star Trek, allowing for interstellar voyages in days or weeks rather than years.

White's collaborator Mark Rademaker has created a CGI design concept for the warp ship. In true Star Trek tradition, they’ve christened it the IXS Enterprise.

The main goal, at least for now, though is getting young people interest in science, and scientific careers. Rademaker told The Washington Post: "We wanted to have a decent image of a theory conforming Warp ship to motivate young people to pursue a STEM career." John Aziz

June 8, 2014

Eugene Goostman is a perfectly normal 13-year-old boy in every way, except that he's a computer.

In a milestone for the development of artificial intelligence, the Goostman program became the first to ever pass the Turing Test, which requires that a computer convince at least 30 percent of humans it's one of them and not a soulless bunch of ones and zeroes. Computer whiz Alan Turing devised the test back in the 1950s, and it has remained a symbolic threshold for the AI community ever since.

A Russian team designed Goostman, and the program succeeded on Saturday in duping 33 percent of the judges at a contest in London. Despite the success though, the robocalypse is not yet upon us: Goostman only had to hold court for five minutes about guinea pigs, candy, and his gynecologist father, so we're still a long way from truly terrifying autonomous bots. Jon Terbush

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