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The Download, Mar 2, 2017: Human-Robot Mind-Meld, Stiff VR Competition, and Defrosting Organs

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Three Things You Need to Know Today

Human-Machine Mind-Melds Make Super-Fast Robots
Give a robot a human buddy and it will flourish. Our own Will Knight reports that a secretive Canadian startup called Kindred AI is teaching robots how to perform difficult dexterous tasks at superhuman speeds by pairing them with human “pilots.” When a robot struggles, it asks for human help and is then controlled via VR—but the robots keeps close watch, making use of reinforcement learning to ensure that they can perform a similar task in the future. It works: the robots can work through some jobs twice as fast as humans.

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VR Competition Gets Real
Consumers are voting for VR with their wallets. Despite a sluggish debut for the headsets, we’re now seeing some firms rise and others struggle. Having already closed down a string of in-store demo stations after poor interest from consumers, Oculus has now slashed the price of its VR headset by $200. Meanwhile, the New York Times recently reported that sales of Sony’s headset have surpassed even the company's expectations, shifting 915,000 units in just four months. Here's why we thought exactly this might happen.

It’s Getting Hotter—Sooner and More Consistently
Our seasons are changing. The study of nature’s cyclical events, such as budding and migration, suggests that spring is arriving almost four weeks early in parts of the Northern hemisphere, and researchers say that it tallies with global warming. Meanwhile in Australia, heatwaves are becoming stronger and more persistent, with analysis showing that events are 50 times more likely as a result of climate change. Enjoy it if you want, but remember that, when the world gets warmer, bad things happen.

Ten Fascinating Things

Alzheimer’s drugs that target the buildup of a toxic protein called amyloid keep failing. But then, so does every other therapy.

Would you like your Internet service provider to stop selling your personal information? Sorry: the FCC suspended its own rules that would’ve done just that.

Facebook has launched a new set of suicide-prevention tools, but mental health researchers wonder if they will be effective.

While it’s easy to put a transplant organ into deep freeze, thawing it for use is quite another matter. New research suggests that it may yet be possible.

How refugee scientists are struggling to make lives—let alone research careers—when they're forced to move abroad.

Think of military tech, and you picture weapons, vehicles, and communications. But the Department of Defense wants to add renewable power to the list.

Programmers are waging a campaign to point out that the kind of interviews beloved of tech giants are actually an awful idea for the industry.

Nintendo’s convertible gaming system, the Switch, is finally here, and the verdict is that it's a wonderful experiment—but with plenty of rough edges.

Snapchat plans to take over the world of messaging. Too bad that an app currently sweeping Asia has other ideas.

Move away from the plughole: experiments reveal that bacteria can climb up the pipe from a U bend at speeds of up to 2.5 centimeters per day.

Quote of the Day 

“If you’re going to debate something, it’s important to know what’s in the article and what’s not in the article.”

— Ståle Grut, from the Norwegian public broadcaster NRK, explains why some articles on the organization's website now ask users to complete a quiz before they’re allowed to post a comment.

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It’s time to retire the term “user”

The proliferation of AI means we need a new word.

The problem with plug-in hybrids? Their drivers.

Plug-in hybrids are often sold as a transition to EVs, but new data from Europe shows we’re still underestimating the emissions they produce.

Sam Altman says helpful agents are poised to become AI’s killer function

Open AI’s CEO says we won’t need new hardware or lots more training data to get there.

A brief, weird history of brainwashing

L. Ron Hubbard, Operation Midnight Climax, and stochastic terrorism—the race for mind control changed America forever.

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Illustration by Rose Wong

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