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The Download, Feb 27, 2017: Nuclear Claims Fall Flat, Smartphone Crossroads, and a Morphing Drone

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February 27, 2017

Three Things You Need to Know Today

Electrifying Nuclear Power Promises Fall to Earth
A nuclear energy startup’s bold claims are fading. Transatomic Power, which is backed by Peter Thiel’s Founders Fund, famously promised to upend the nuclear power sector, claiming that a new molten salt reactor design could run on spent nuclear fuel and "generate up to 75 times more electricity per ton of mined uranium than a light-water reactor." But prompted by an informal investigation by MIT professors, the company has updated its calculations and now says that it can only generate "more than twice" as much. Our own James Temple investigates.

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Mobile Phones Go Back to the Future
There’s a fork in the road for cell phones: cutting edge or keeping simple. At the annual phone-fest of Mobile World Congress, there’s no shortage of new tech: AI voice assistants of Google and Amazon proliferate, a new wave of modular designs emerge, and a concept demonstrates gigabit cellular connections. At the other end, a kind of techno-rebellion, with LG eschewing unique features and opting for utilitarian priorities like battery capacity. Then, of course, there’s the rebirth of the iconic Nokia 3310—with no 3G, certainly no AI, but, yes, Snake.

The U.S Silicon Industry Shares for Success
Tough times for U.S. chipmakers have bred unusual innovation strategies. In recent years, high domestic taxes and foreign government subsidies have pushed U.S. chipmakers overseas, while competition from abroad has also increased. A White House task force is trying to help, but the New York Times reports on how American semiconductor companies have been trying to weather the storm themselves. And, while waiting for Trump's tax reforms to help them out, that has even involved sharing facilities.

Ten Fascinating Things

Donald Trump will reportedly seek billions of dollars of budget cuts at the Environmental Protection Agency later today.

In China, you can now make payments using nothing but your face. Are other countries going to follow its lead?

Why Uber might be doomed.

AI, robotics, and big data will transform society. This long read explains that we must make important decisions to ensure that democracy survives the upheaval.

Talk about ambition: how biologists propose to sequence the DNA of all life on Earth.

Last week, Alphabet released an AI tool to identify toxic comments on websites. But it’s easy to sneak offensive language past the software.

Peer inside the world’s largest wind tunnel.

Is it a bird? A plane? A helicopter? Nope, it’s a new morphing drone that runs on solar power all day long.

Even Hollywood is being disrupted. Last night, Amazon and Netflix both picked up their first ever Academy Awards

You may think that it’s impossible to repair the circuit boards of a modern device like an iPhone. Micro-soldering expert Jessa Jones begs to differ.

Quote of the Day 

"I want to challenge Silicon Valley, Detroit, and all other auto industry hubs to step up and help educate a skeptical public about the benefits of automated technology."

— U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao explains why she plans to review the self-driving car guidance issued by the Obama administration.


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