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The Download, Mar 31, 2017: Mr Musk’s Reused Rocket, AI’s Thorny Ethics, and Tadpole Eye Transplants

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Three Things You Need to Know Today

Mr Musk Has Reused His First Rocket
SpaceX has recycled its way into history. Overcoming any fears of unreliability, the company successfully launched a refurbished rocket into space—and landed it again—for the first time ever. For Elon Musk, the approach, which was one of our ten breakthrough technologies in 2016, is a major step towards driving down the cost of space travel. In the future, reused rockets should allow SpaceX to launch satellites into space more profitably, perhaps even setting it on course to achieve its long-term vision of flying people to Mars.

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Tech Giants Grapple with AI’s Ethical Issues
With great power comes great responsibility—and AI is sure getting more powerful. At MIT Technology Review’s EmTech Digital conference this week, tech giants in the vanguard of developing and deploying machine learning technology spoke openly about the ethical challenges raised by their smart creations—from issues with robotic health diagnoses to the problems of baked-in discrimination. Our own Tom Simonite explains what they had to say.

Digital Eyes and Ears That Sip Power
Sensor makers want your charge to go further. Qualcomm’s new Glance system packages up a lens, image sensor, and low-power computer-vision processor. The resulting package can be used to, say, help detect your face to unlock a phone while using a fraction of the power of a regular camera module. Meanwhile, Boston startup Vesper has developed a new kind of piezoelectric microphone that doesn’t require a constant energy supply—and, perhaps best of all, won’t break if you spill your beer on it.

Ten Fascinating Things

Scientists have implanted eyes on the tails of blind tadpoles, allowing them to see again. Sounds odd, but it hints that similar approaches could yet work in humans.

To investors, short-term gains can trump uncertain long-term returns. Analysis of the early solar industry suggests that fact could hinder climate change mitigation.

Next on Donald Trump’s hit list: net neutrality.

Amazon’s Alexa is fun to have around the home—but is she your friend? This essay tries to understand our increasingly intimate relationships with AI assistants.

Every year, 6 million people die due to tobacco use. After all this time, can we hope to engineer a safer way to smoke?

This is how Gizmodo almost certainly identified the Twitter account of FBI director James Comey.

Here’s a fact Donald Trump could bear in mind when writing new budgets: National Institutes of Health grants have far broader economic benefits than suspected

What do slime mold and Amazon customers have in common? More than you might expect.

Cyber this, cyber that, cyber the other. Here’s an impassioned plea asking people to be more careful about how they use the word “cyberattack.”

It’s Friday, and you’re probably ready for the weekend. But it needn’t be that way: here’s what an ideal work week might look like according to science.

Quote of the Day

"There is hard evidence that sophisticated readers make sophisticated writers. Why not encourage students to put down Nature and pick up Darwin, Dawkins, or Dickens?"

— In a column for, er, Nature, science writer Philip Ball suggests a way to overcome a problem revealed by a new study, which showed that scientific journal papers are becoming more difficult to read.

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Illustration by Rose WongIllustration by Rose Wong

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