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The Download, Mar 15, 2017: Solar’s Huge Potential, Robots Explain Themselves, and Edible Drones

The most fascinating and important news in technology and innovation delivered straight to your inbox, every day.

Three Things You Need to Know Today 

Corporal Robot, Explain Yourself!
The U.S. military doesn’t want to blindly trust any old algorithm. Rightly so, because the use of robots in the field raises some serious ethical questions about what machines should be able to do without human assistance. But for DARPA, one thing is clear: if robots are able to perceive their surroundings and make decisions, they must also be able to explain why they’ve made those choices to their human superiors. Our own Will Knight reports on a number of military projects that are currently trying to incorporate elucidation into artificial intelligence.

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How Much Solar Can We Squeeze Onto Rooftops?
Almost 80 percent of U.S. homes could make use of solar panels. That’s according to analysis by Google’s Project Sunroof, which uses mapping data, weather trends, 3-D modeling, and machine learning to estimate which buildings receive enough sunlight to justify the hardware (you can use it to see if you should install your own). But there’s still a ways to go: while solar installations soared in 2016, the Solar Energy Industries Association says that panels have so far only been installed on 1.3 million U.S homes.

Congress Takes Blockchain 101
On Capitol Hill, it’s time to learn about digital ledgers. Congressman David Schweikert is so enamored with the possibilities offered by Bitcoin’s underlying technology—already being tested for tracking freight and medical records—that he’s set up a Congressional Blockchain Caucus. Our own Mike Orcutt reports that it should help Schweikert achieve his ultimate goal: to keep the government from “screwing it up” when making decisions about how the technology is used in the future.

Ten Fascinating Things

We’ve talked about sexual discrimination in Silicon Valley before. But this Atlantic feature takes a deep dive into why it’s still a problem, and what can be done to fix it.

Thousands of Twitter accounts have been hacked to post propaganda about Turkey’s diplomatic conflict with Germany and the Netherlands.

A small Spanish startup wants to improve cell phone reception by removing the antenna as we know it from your smartphone.

Talk about a disproportionate response: a U.S. ally is said to have used a Patriot missile to shoot down a commercially available drone.

DeepMind's developed a new system to allow neural networks to store away memories for different tasks in the future (and its using it to play more Atari games).

The banana is a consistently reliable snack. But human efforts to make its presence so predictable have created biological problems that could seal its demise.

Tech is often blamed for eroding art, music, literature, and culture generally. But, Farhad Manjoo argues, it’s actually rejuvenating it—we just don’t see it yet.

Pesticide resistance is a huge problem for farmers. This long read from Nature takes a detailed look at how science is trying to provide a solution.

Mark Zuckerberg is trying very hard indeed to make sure you like him. Why?

A drone maker claims that by building aircraft out of foodstuffs it could fly more calories than contained within edible payloads to humanitarian crises.

Quote of the Day

"We think with our whole body, not just with the brain. I suspect that this basic imperative of bodily survival in an uncertain world is the basis of the flexibility and power of human intelligence."

— Ben Medlock, co-founder of predictive language software firm SwiftKey, explains why he thinks that truly intelligent machines will need a body.

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