The Download, Mar 27, 2017: Uber’s Self-Driving Smash, FBI Facial Recognition, and a Geoengineering Test
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Uber’s Self-Driving Smash
The latest driverless car crash highlights concerns over robots and humans sharing roads. Uber has suspended autonomous car testing in Tempe, Arizona after one of its vehicles was involved in a serious accident that tipped its car. It's not quite another Tesla-esque setback, though, because police say that it was another driver, not Uber’s vehicle, that was responsible for the smash—so it serves as a reminder of a complex future where methodical robots and unpredictable humans must co-exist. Still, it's poorly timed for Uber: its self-driving division is undergoing a “mini civil war” according to Recode.
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Researchers Prepare to Engineer the Climate
Geoengineering is back on the menu. The idea of using man-made techniques to ease the effects of climate change, by sucking CO2 out of our atmosphere or increasing how much sunlight the Earth reflects, is not a new one. But while popular among many scientists, skeptics have warned that such approaches could prove risky, because no one understands what their effects might be. Now, our own James Temple reports that a pair of Harvard climate scientists is finally preparing to spray reflective particles into the stratosphere.
FBI Facial Recognition Troubles
Smile: you may be misidentified. Last year, we learned that the FBI’s facial recognition technology made use of nearly 412 million photos. Now, the Guardian reports new details about the setup, explaining that around half of adult Americans feature in the database, with 80 percent of images originating from sources unrelated to crime, such as ID documents. Perhaps more worrying is that, despite the fact that facial recognition technology is incredibly advanced, the FBI’s matches are said to be wrong 15 percent of the time, and are (predictably) more likely to mistake black people than white people.
Ten Fascinating Things
MIT’s Nuclear Lab has an unusual plan to jumpstart advanced-reactor research: a small transportable reactor that could avoid many of the industry’s regulations.
AI can increasingly decipher medical scans more reliably than human doctors. The New Yorker explores what happens when we automate medical diagnoses.
Google is investing heavily in AI, and it’s now publishing papers with such frequency that it’s launching itself into the the scientific research hall of fame.
Donald Trump is expected to unveil a new Office of American Innovation, which could lean on data, bypass bureaucracy, and even privatize government services.
Amazon is considering plans to extend its bricks-and-mortar store dreams to furniture, home appliances, and electronics sold in real life using AR.
New services that sequence the bacteria in your digestive tract promise insights into your health. Scientists are wary of the claims.
The U.S. Senate voted to roll back Internet service provider privacy rules relating to user data. Here’s why the decision might be a little fairer than you think.
A new report suggests that the U.S. will be hit far harder than countries like the U.K., Germany, and Japan by job loss resulting from automation.
Most self-driving car stories focus on Waymo, Uber, Tesla, and the like. But a Russian company thinks that it can give them all some stiff competition.
Here’s how scientists have used an actual spinach leaf as a scaffold to build a piece of beating heart muscle.
Quote of the Day
"It used to be that people would steam open envelopes … we need to make sure that our intelligence services have the ability to get into situations like encrypted WhatsApp."