The future is now
November 1, 2019

When Ridley Scott directed Blade Runner in 1982, based loosely on a 1968 Philip K. Dick novel, the future he created was dark, violent, and set in Los Angeles — in November 2019.

So here we are in November 2019, and there are no flying cars, no Replicants, no human space colonies, and no futuristic giant office pyramids in Southern California. But they were right about the disruptive power of giant tech companies and, sadly, fires in Los Angeles. You can learn more about the 1982 world of November 2019 in Blade Runner's opening credits below. Peter Weber

September 4, 2019

Are you smarter than an eighth grader? This A.I. system named Aristo just proved it is.

On Wednesday, researchers at the Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence in Seattle revealed Aristo correctly answered more than 90 percent of the multiple choice questions on an eighth grade science exam, and more than 80 percent on a twelfth grade exam, reports The New York Times.

Rather than just memorization questions, the exam included logic-based problems as well, including: "Which change would most likely cause a decrease in the number of squirrels living in an area?"

This required Aristo, named for Aristotle, to invoke human logic, an advancement that may help with various services, including internet search engines and hospital record-keeping, writes the Times. While Aristo's success is promising, researchers say this is still just the beginning for the technology.

"We can't compare this technology to real human students and their ability to reason," Microsoft researcher Jingjing Liu told the Times.

But just four years ago, 700 scientists entered a contest to develop A.I. that could pass an eighth grade science exam, and none were able to do so, making Aristo's exam results not only fridge-worthy, but a glimpse into the future of artificial intelligence. Read more at The New York Times. Taylor Watson

December 3, 2018

Walmart will begin cleaning some of its stores with robot janitors beginning in January, the company announced Monday.

The robots in question "look like a cross between a miniature Zamboni and a motorized wheel chair," Bloomberg reports, and their main function is to sweep and mop store floors. They must be guided by humans while they learn the contours of the space they'll clean but after that can operate autonomously, even while customers are around.

Walmart has ordered 360 of the machines, which are made by a company called Brain Corp. The automated janitors are already at work in airports in Boston, Miami, San Diego, and Seattle, and Brain CEO Eugene Izhikevich sees big box stores as a major new market for his product.

Walmart described the robots as a tool to help "our associates complete repetitive tasks so they can focus on other tasks within role and spend more time serving customers." Bonnie Kristian

May 16, 2018

Scientists recently transplanted one snail's memory into another snail's brain, making the second snail think it remembered something that never happened to it.

Researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles, found that they could extract a part of a snail's genetic code and inject it into a second snail, changing the way the second animal acted, in an eNeuro study that sounds straight out of Black Mirror: Snail Edition.

Sea snails apparently have great long-term memories, so UCLA researchers were able to quickly train them to react negatively after giving them a small electric shock. The unfortunate snails who were shocked retracted their siphons for much longer than the snails who were new to the lab. The snails that developed the reflex in response to the zaps had essentially formed a memory of the experience in their nervous systems.

That memory was transferred via RNA molecules to the new snails, who hadn't yet learned to retract their siphons in anticipation of more shocks. After researchers moved the genetic material from a trained snail to a naive snail, the unsuspecting snail neurons immediately reacted to the zaps like seasoned pros, as if they remembered dealing with them before. The study doesn't mean we're anywhere close to being able to pass memories around at will, but researchers told BBC it was a huge step towards understanding more about memory development. Summer Meza

November 30, 2017

Do you ever put off laundry day by just buying more socks and underwear? If you do, Fruit of the Loom has a new delivery program right up your alley. You just have to plan ahead a bit.

Bloomberg reported Thursday that the 166-year-old undergarment company has a new subscription service called Fruit to Your Door that allows shoppers to buy packs of Fruit of the Loom products and create a schedule for repeated auto-deliveries at discounted rates. Fruit of the Loom is hardly alone with its underwear subscription service. Several startups — from Me Undies to Bootay Bag to Panty Drop — offer subscription services for men and women’s underwear. And it's not hard to see why Fruit of the Loom wants in on this growing part of the market. Warren Buffett bought Fruit of the Loom out of bankruptcy in 2002, but profits at the traditional company continue to lag.

For its part, Fruit of the Loom seems to understand the target delivery demographic pretty well — a spokesman for the company told Bloomberg, "You might see a lot of moms doing this for their kids in college." Kelly O'Meara Morales

September 12, 2017

Over the weekend, with Florida authorities ordering the evacuation of large swaths of the state, Tesla sent out software updates increasing the battery life, and thus the driving range, of some Model S sedans and Model X SUVs in evacuation zones. It is a temporary gift, expiring Sept. 16, but probably welcomed at the time by those drivers who needed to get out of dodge, or Miami Beach.

It raised a lot of questions, though, like: Tesla can do that?

The answer is yes. When you buy a Tesla, you have the option to pay more to unlock certain features, like full use of its 75-kilowatt-hour battery, The Washington Post explains. All Teslas are sold with the same battery. What Elon Musk and Co. did over the weekend was a free, temporary power boost for those drivers who didn't choose to pay for the upgrade. The fact that Tesla can do this, remotely, without warning or asking permission, is something new in car ownership. It would be like if Apple updated your iPhone without you doing anything, except much bigger, the Post's Brian Fung says:

This is a paradigm shift. When you buy any other car, you get its full capabilities. In many cases, though less so now than in decades past, you can open up the hood and tinker with everything yourself. This has historically been the way we've thought about buying a car. When you roll it off the lot, you get the whole thing, and you can basically do with it whatever you want. In Tesla's case, it's not quite the same. [The Washington Post]

If Tesla drivers don't mind the new model, it may be the future for car ownership. Peter Weber

March 4, 2017

A 3D-printing company called Apis Cor — tagline: "We print buildings" — demonstrated its large-scale 3D printer with the complete printing of a 400-square-foot tiny house in just 24 hours. The house was built in Russia for a total cost of $10,134, including electrical wiring, plumbing, and fixtures like windows and doors.

The studio-style home has a living space, kitchen, bathroom, and hallway, and Apis Cor says it will be functional for nearly 200 years. The company claims to be the first to develop a mobile printer that can construct entire buildings on-site; previously, printed buildings have been printed in pieces in a factory and assembled at a new location. Watch a clip of the printer in action below. Bonnie Kristian

March 1, 2017

Facebook is rolling out software Wednesday that scans users' posts to identify language indicating suicidal or harmful thoughts, BuzzFeed News reports. In cases where indicative language is found, the software alerts Facebook's community team for review and can send a message with suicide-prevention resources to the flagged user, including options such as contacting a helpline or a friend.

The decision to implement the software follows a number of suicides that have been broadcast on Facebook Live over the past several months. Facebook says its program is actually even better at recognizing the warning signs of suicide and self-harm than real people are. "The AI is actually more accurate than the reports that we get from people that are flagged as suicide and self-injury," product manager Vanessa Callison-Burchold told BuzzFeed News. "The people who have posted that content [that AI reports] are more likely to be sent resources of support versus people reporting to us."

Facebook is only alerted by its AI in situations that are "very likely to be urgent," Callison-Burchold added. Facebook has also made "suicide or self-injury" a more prominent option for users when reporting a post or video. "In suicide prevention, sometimes timing is everything," explained Dr. John Draper, a project director for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, which has partnered with Facebook.

"There is this opportunity here for people to reach out and provide support for that person they're seeing, and for that person who is using [Facebook Live] to receive this support from their family and friends who may be watching," Facebook researcher Jennifer Guadagno told BuzzFeed News. "In this way, Live becomes a lifeline." Jeva Lange

See More Speed Reads