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Category Archives: Futurism

NASA’s Mars Rover Spent the Weekend Shooting a Weird-Looking Rock With a Laser – Futurism

Posted: July 21, 2020 at 12:43 pm


Over the weekend, NASAs Curiosity rover spent its time blasting a bizarre rock on Mars with a laser.

To clarify, Curiosity wasnt just killing time. This particular rock, Digital Trends reports, was adorned with unusual colors for the area, and vaporizing it with a laser is one of the best tricks Curiosity that has for figuring out what its made of.

The laser is just one of Curiositys tools for analyzing an objects chemical composition. In the past, the rover has used them to make discoveries suggesting that Mars once harbored life. The findings for this particular rock arent available yet, but Digital Trends reports that the colors could suggest the presence of organic compounds.

But it wont be until the next rover, Perseverance, shows up with more sophisticated tools that NASA can kick up the hunt for signs of ancient microbes to the next level.

While NASA prepares for its Perseverance launch, Curiosity is continuing on what NASA is calling a summer road trip to scout ahead and study more regions of the planet that may have once harbored life.

Curiosity was designed to go beyond Opportunitys search for the history of water, NASA researcher Abigail Fraeman said in a press release. Were uncovering an ancient world that offered life a foothold for longer than we realized.

READ MORE: Curiosity is investigating a strangely colored rock it found on Mars [Digital Trends]

More on Curiosity: Next NASA Mars Rover Will Sport a Rock-Vaporizing Laser

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Uber Drivers Are Suing to Learn How the Company’s Algorithm Works – Futurism

Posted: at 12:43 pm

Black Box

Uber drivers in the UK are suing the company in a desperate bid to learn more about the ride-hailing apps algorithm, which governs their lives and income.

The core argument of the lawsuit, Business Insider reports, is that the companys decision to withhold personal data about drivers prevents them from understanding how the algorithm assigns them jobs and therefore impacts their livelihood. If it works, it could be a major win for gig-economy contractors trying to assert control over their work.

The App Drivers and Couriers Union, which is suing Uber on behalf of the drivers, argued that Uber violates GDPR when it tracks and monitors drivers by gathering data like late arrivals, cancellation records, and passenger complaints, according to BI.

Because the drivers cant access that data and arent told how its fed into the algorithm that decides their future ride assignments, the union claims that Uber is violating their digital privacy.

If the lawsuit succeeds and Uber drivers gain access to their records, it could set a lasting precedent for other gig workers who essentially report to and are managed by algorithms, BI reports.

With more power and authority granted to drivers, who Uber has repeatedly argued in court should not be considered employees, gig workers around the world could get a more important seat at the table.

READ MORE: Uber drivers are suing the company to better understand how they are managed by algorithms [Business Insider]

More on Uber: Uber Says Rides During Party Hours Are Keeping it Afloat

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Scientists Found Something Surprising in Closest-Ever Photos of the Sun – Futurism

Posted: at 12:43 pm

NASA just released the closest pictures ever taken of the Sun not to be confused with the highest resolution ones courtesy of the Solar Orbiter, a collaboration between NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA). The close-ups are breathtaking to look at, and also reveal something entirely unexpected as well: small flares theyre calling campfires, all over the stars surface.

The campfires we are talking about here are the little nephews of solar flares, at least a million, perhaps a billion times smaller, said principal investigator David Berghmans, an astrophysicist at the Royal Observatory of Belgium in Brussels, in a a NASA statement. When looking at the new high resolution EUI images, they are literally everywhere we look.

Despite the majority of staff at ground control at the European Space Operations Center in Germany having to work from home during the ongoing pandemic, the team was able to obtain the images from the Solar Orbiter as it made its closest pass on June 15.

The Orbiter came within just 48 million miles of the Sun. Its closest pass within the next year or so will get it within just 26.1 million miles. NASAs Parker Solar Probe came even closer in June, getting to within just 11.6 million miles from the surface.

A closer flyby also means better images. Because the camera itself doesnt doesnt have any zoom capability, that zooming happens by getting closer to the Sun, Daniel Mller, ESAs Solar Orbiter Project Scientist, told The Verge.

These unprecedented pictures of the Sun are the closest we have ever obtained, Holly Gilbert, NASA project scientist for the mission at NASAs Goddard Space Flight Center, said inthe NASA statement. These amazing images will help scientists piece together the Suns atmospheric layers, which is important for understanding how it drives space weather near the Earth and throughout the solar system.

Scientists are still unsure as to the exact nature of these little flare-ups each of them are about the size of a country.

But we might soon know more thanks to the Solar Orbiters other scientific instruments. The Spectral Imaging of the Coronal Environment, or SPICE instrument, can measure the exact temperature of each nanoflare.

So were eagerly awaiting our next data set, Frdric Auchre, principal investigator for SPICE operations at the Institute for Space Astrophysics in Orsay, France, said in NASAs statement. The hope is to detect nanoflares for sure and to quantify their role in coronal heating.

Mller suggested to The Verge that the campfires in total they could add up enough energy to heat the corona. In other words, all these tiny flares could add up to enough energy to heat up the Suns entire atmosphere.

The Solar Orbiter is outfitted with an entire suite of scientific gear. Counting the cameras and the SPICE instrument, the small spacecraft features ten different instruments, all collecting invaluable data about our star.

Scientists werent expecting to find anything groundbreaking from the Orbiters first ever images yet thanks to the Extreme Ultraviolet Imager, astronomers were astonished to discover what they called campfires all over the Suns surface.

We didnt really expect such great results right from the start, Mller, ESAs Solar Orbiter Project Scientist, said in an ESA statement. We can also see how our ten scientific instruments complement each other, providing a holistic picture of the Sun and the surrounding environment.

As part of a different experiment, scientists are excited to soon get a much closer and detailed look at structures of solar wind, massive streams of charged particles released from the Suns corona that make their way through the solar system.

Thanks to yet another instrument, the researchers are also getting an unprecedented look at the Suns magnetic field, particularly at each of its poles.

READ MORE: The closest images of the Sun ever taken reveal tiny solar flares dotting the stars surface [The Verge]

More on the Solar Orbiter: A Space Probe Just Took the Closest Pictures of the Sun Ever

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Google Is Working on Tattoos That Turn Your Body Into a Touchpad – Futurism

Posted: at 12:43 pm

New Ink

Undeterred by its historic Google Glass flop, Google is still investing heavily in various oddball forms of wearable technology.

Recent projects, according to CNET, include new mixed reality glasses, virtual reality controllers that let you feel the weight of virtual objects, and new smartwatches. But perhaps the most unusual is a high-tech temporary tattoo that basically turns your flesh into a giant touchpad.

CNET reports that the idea behind the tattoo project, dubbed SkinMarks, is to make interacting with technology feel more natural. The SkinMarks can be applied to fingers or parts of the hand that we control with instinctive fine motor skills, so using the sensors through a bend of the finger or a squeeze of the fist could become like second nature.

Through a vastly reduced tattoo thickness and increased stretchability, a SkinMark is sufficiently thin and flexible to conform to irregular geometry, like flexure lines and protruding bones, The Saarland University researchers who were funded by Google to develop the tech wrote in a white paper about the project.

Aside from the market value of beating other tech giants like Facebook or Apple at the wearable game, CNET reports that Google is particularly incentivized to get more people to use wearable devices or literally imprint them on their skin in order to collect even more of that sweet, sweet user data.

Targeted advertising brings Google over $160 billion every year. And the brand new categories of data that devices like these tattoos would generate stands to be even more valuable

READ MORE: Google is quietly experimenting with holographic glasses and hybrid smartwatches [CNET]

More on wearables: Mark Zuckerberg: Wearables Will Soon Read Your Mind

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"Mini-Neptune" Exoplanets May Actually Be Covered in Radioactive Oceans – Futurism

Posted: at 12:43 pm


New research suggests that astronomers may have been entirely wrong about a class of exoplanets that they call mini-Neptunes.

These worlds, which were thought to be smaller versions just 2.4 Earth radii across of gas giants like Neptune, may actually be rocky exoplanets covered by thick, deeply-irradiated oceans, according to research by scientists at the Laboratoire dAstrophysique de Marseille. The study, published last month in The Astrophysical Journal Letters, threatens to break down the barriers between two classes of exoplanets that astronomers previously thought were totally separate.

Studying exoplanets tends to involve a little bit of trickery. Researchers use various imaging techniques to figure out things like a worlds density, chemical composition, and whether it has an atmosphere. In the case of mini-Neptunes, most had assumed that their low density and mass meant they were coated in a thick, gassy atmosphere.

Instead, according to the study, some may have oceans of highly pressurized and heated supercritical liquid thats been irradiated by a powerful greenhouse effect. The ocean, just like a gas giants atmosphere, could account for the low density and mass of the exoplanets.

A separate study published in Astronomy and Astrophysics found that the same irradiated oceans could also exist on slightly-smaller, rocky super-Earth exoplanets, as their environments are capable of the same powerful greenhouse effect as the mini-Neptunes.

Much of their calculations still need to be tested and verified through more observations of exoplanets. But if it holds up, the findings suggest that the various worlds out there could be a lot more similar than we thought.

READ MORE: Could mini-Neptunes be irradiated ocean planets? [CNRS]

More on exoplanets: Astronomers Discover Intriguing, Extremely Earth-Like Exoplanet

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Russian Space Chief "Not Interested" in Working With NASA on Missions to the Moon – Futurism

Posted: at 12:43 pm

Not Interested

Dmitry Rogozin, the head of Russian space agency Roscosmos, has nothing nice to say about NASAs efforts to return astronauts to the Moon, Ars Technica reports.

In an interview with Russian newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda a former mouthpiece of the USSR Rogozin said Russia had no interest in working with NASA on its Artemis Moon program.

Frankly speaking, we are not interested in participating in such a project, he said.

The news comes after Rogozin took aim at SpaceX for mocking Russias space efforts in a lengthy column for Forbes Russia last month.

Its more of a political project for the US now, Rogozin said, addressing NASAs Moon missions. With the lunar project, we are seeing our US partners move away from the principles of cooperation and mutual support that have developed with cooperation on the ISS. They see their program not as international but as similar to NATO.

Despite the dismissal, Rogozin still sees US-Russia relations as an important bridge of interaction, noting that hes hoping cooperation between Roscosmos and NASA will continue despite the bad political situation that, unfortunately, is coming from Washington today.

Russia may not be interested in collaborating with NASA on future missions to the Moon, but the American space agency has already built partnerships with other countries, including Japan, Canada, and several EU members.

Russias goals are establishing a closer relationship with China instead.

We respect their results, Rogozin said,adding that China is definitely our partner and that relations between the countries are very good.

READ MORE: Russian space chief questions NASA plans, praises partnership with China [Ars Technica]

More on Rogozin: Russia Is Furious, Saying the US is Mocking Its Space Program

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Biography ‘The Beauty Of Living’ Examines Experiences That Shaped Poetic Voice Of E.E. Cummings – WBUR

Posted: at 12:43 pm

In late 1918, E.E. Cummings sat down in a barracks at Camp Devens in Massachusetts and began to write.

Art is vital, he wrote. Art is indeed that superfluous crisp minute inexcusable impulse which substitutes the actual synthesis of premeditated vitality for a probable comedy of cellular agglomeration, amoeboid improvisations, corpuscular statistics, or mess.

Satisfied with this high-minded statement of purpose, he flipped the page over and covered it, says author J. Alison Rosenblitt, with erotica.

Therein lies the charm of Edward Estlin Cummings on one side, a tangle of lofty modernist ideals worthy of T. S. Eliot, on the other, a vulgar fascination with sex that recalls James Joyce at his most transgressive. Its this cheeky blend of high and low that makes his poems so memorable, so popular, and so widely read.

In The Beauty of Living (out now), Rosenblitt explores Cummingss youth in Cambridge, his studies at Harvard, and his time in France during the First World War, providing an in-depth look at the experiences that shaped his unique poetic voice.

Cummings had been drafted by the U.S. Army and sent to Camp Devens with the expectation that he would soon be deployed to France to fight the Germans a strange turn of events considering that just six months earlier, the U.S. government had expended a significant amount of effort getting him out of France.

He had gone there in 1917 as a volunteer for the Norton-Harjes Ambulance Corps, a popular choice among Cummingss coterie of Harvard-educated literary types, young men who wanted to experience the frisson of war without having to shoot anybody.

Unfortunately for Cummings, his friend William Slater Brown sent a few letters home that were critical of the French war effort. When the censors saw them, Brown and Cummings were arrested as undesirables and locked up in a detention camp. Cummings spent about four months in jail and was freed only thanks to the entreaties of the U.S. State Department. Fortunately for him, the war ended before he could be sent back as a soldier.

Rosenblitt proposes that, since Cummingss poetry was influenced by what he witnessed in France, he should be considered a war poet alongside Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon. We do not normally think of Cummings as a war poet, she writes, but insists we must understand this period of his life if we wish to understand his ideas about love, justice, injustice, humanity and brutality.

Its a bit of a stretch. Cummingss writing on the subject is elliptical (i have seen / deaths clever enormous voice / which hides in a fragility / of poppies) a far cry from the visceral narratives of Dulce et Decorum Est or Counter-Attack. The tone signals Cummingss status as an observer rather than a participant. From his position on the margins, he is able to aestheticize the sights and sounds of battle in a way that would be inconceivable to those who endured the nightmare of the trenches.

Owen and Sassoon became famous for their stinging, anthemic poems illustrating the horrors they saw in vivid detail; Cummings through his playfulness with language, form, and convention, habits that seem more rooted in his need to rebel against the strictures of life growing up in Cambridge or the rigidity of his education at Harvard.

Indeed, Rosenblitt does an excellent job of describing Cummingss artistic evolution in the days leading up to the war: the influence of the classical paganism and Decadent poetry he picked up at Harvard and his excitement over pre-war modernist movements like cubism, futurism and imagism. The war, while important, was if anything just a final nudge toward the break from convention that hed long been aiming for.

The five weeks he spent in Paris awaiting his assignment with the ambulance corps seem to have had a much greater effect on his poetry than anything he saw near the front. While there, he struck up a relationship with an older woman named Marie Louise Lallemand. Rosenblitt points out that Cummingss relationship with Lallemand has been poorly treated by previous biographers who seemed unable to reconcile their genuine intimacy with the fact that she was a sex worker.

But Rosenblitt gives the woman her due. Lallemand is more than just Cummingss muse. She helps him recognize the power in the passion and sexuality he spent much of his youth trying to suppress. Their relationship is a watershed for Cummings; by unlocking this side of himself, he taps into a vast reservoir of feeling that can be seen throughout his later work.

The subtitle of this book, E.E. Cummings in the Great War, undersells what is a thoughtful, engaging story of an artist discovering his voice. Rosenblitts depiction of both Cummings and the elite, early 20th-century literary world in which he moved make it a fascinating read, and the dialogue she opens with previous biographies of Cummingss life regarding Lallemands role in it make it an important one.

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How Afrofuturism Can Help the World Mend – WIRED

Posted: at 12:43 pm

The most popular Afrofuturist authors write deftly at this margin, where they are just as future-obsessed as their peers, but with different takes on questions about who gets to play which roles in these futures. For example, Jemisins Hundred Thousand Kingdoms (2010) is a story about empire and slavery that plays out in a supernatural realm of deities and monsters. Butlers 1979 classic Kindred famously features an African-American writer who travels between modern Los Angeles and a Maryland plantation during the antebellum period.

In music, acts like Sun Ra and Parliament Funkadelic built their looks and sounds on a marriage between Black culture and futuristic iconography. For Afrofuturist artists, technology is an essential part of the sound. Play Parliament's acid-infused take on the Motown sound in "I Bet You" and feel the future course through your veins. These are masters of craft, originators of new sonic (and therefore social) worlds, says Nelson. They all break, deform, and remake standard uses of music technology, genre and even expectations of race, gender, and sexuality.

Afrofuturisms importance also transcends the arts, and insofar as it can be described as a political identity or ideology (Nelson and other scholars leave open this possibility), then it provides a lens through which we can view the present and future.

We could have asked the Afrofuturist of 1985 what they thought about the War on Drugs. We could ask those in 1995 about Sub-Saharan Africas experience with the HIV pandemic, and in 2005 about the War on Terror.


Why do we care about what the Afrofuturist has to say? And why would we suspect that their answers would differ from that of an average futurist? It is because the Black experience is defined by a historical struggle for existence, the right to live, to be considered a person, to be afforded basic rights, in pursuit of (political, social, economic) equality. Because of this, the Afrofuturist can see the parts of the present and future that reside in the status quos blind spots.

Futurists ask what tomorrows hoverboards and flying cars are made of. Afrofuturists ask who will build them? And does their commercial use fall out of their utility in military or law enforcement?

Futurists labor over questions about the nature of Android consciousness and empathy. Afrofuturists ask how race might be wired into Android consciousness, whether the android world might be as divided as ours is.

These are simple but nontrivial questions. Their answers contain the necessary details for building science fiction worlds that are truly convincing (which is one of the sole charges of good science fiction), or real worlds that science fiction makes us aspire to.

We can ask analogous questions of modern society, speculating what our world will look like after experiencing a triad of world-changing current events: the largest pandemic in a century, a social movement that challenges the institutions of policing and criminal justice, and an upcoming presidential election that almost certainly serves as a referendum on democracy in the United States (and the legitimacy of white nationalism-driven fascism globally).

We should ask Afrofuturism what it thinks of these events. While the specific answers might enlighten, real insights are found in the act of answering, as it forces us to reconsider and augment our predictions with layers that were missing.

The Covid-19 Comet

Covid-19 is the curse that keeps on cursing, already taking more than half a million lives globally and nearly 140,000 in the US. The curves dark bend, however, is not simply in how the virus continues to spread and kill, but in how the pandemic slithers along an insidious path, feeding on misinformation rich in credentialism, charlatanism, pseudoscience, conspiracy, and political propaganda.

The resulting cosmic slop looks more grotesque in July than it was in March. The world is so full of bad messages that make-believe conspiracies go to war with each other on our social media timelines; carpetbaggers storm in with reckless abandon, attacking the publics basic trust in science and information; epidemiologists debate with Silicon Valley technologists, or other scientists, about whether things are getting better or worse; the science of mask-wearing regresses into hapless debates about the definition of freedom. Amid the torrent, fact-makers and science-defenders struggle to climb from the rubble and stay motivated and engaged.

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This X-Ray Map of the Entire Sky Is a Psychedelic Dreamworld – Futurism

Posted: June 20, 2020 at 10:23 am

A telescope called eROSITA on board the Spektr-RG space observatory has captured breathtaking X-ray observations of the entire sky, Science Alert reports.

The X-ray instrument was built by the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics in Germany (MPE), and was launched along with the Russian-German space observatory Spektr-RG in July 2019.

The instruments observations, 165 gigabytes collected over 182 days, have been compiled into a stunning map of the sky that contains more than one million shining X-ray objects.

This all-sky image completely changes the way we look at the energetic universe, Peter Predehl, the Principal Investigator of eROSITA at MPE, said in a statement. We see such a wealth of detail the beauty of the images is really stunning.

Most of the bright X-ray objects, around 77 percent, are active galactic nuclei, or supermassive black holes that are actively absorbing material at the center of galaxies. In between, there are clusters of galaxies that give off shining halos due to trapped gas caused by huge concentrations of dark matter.

We were all eagerly awaiting the first all-sky map from eROSITA, Mara Salvato, the scientist at MPE who was involved in the research, said in the statement.

Large sky areas have already been covered at many other wavelengths, and now we have the X-ray data to match, she added. We need these other surveys to identify the X-ray sources and understand their nature.

The team is already working hard on subsequent maps as well.

Overall, during the next 3.5 years, we plan to get 7 maps similar to the one seen in this beautiful image, Rashid Sunyaev, lead scientist of the Russian SRG team said in the statement. Their combined sensitivity will be a factor of 5 better and will be used by astrophysicists and cosmologists for decades.

With a million sources in just six months, eROSITA has already revolutionized X-ray astronomy, but this is just a taste of whats to come, Kirpal Nandra, head of the high-energy astrophysics group at MPE, said. This combination of sky area and depth is transformational.

Over the next few years, well be able to probe even further, out to where the first giant cosmic structures and supermassive black holes were forming, Nandra added.

READ MORE: This Is What The Entire Sky Looks Like Through X-Ray Eyes [Science Alert]

More on X-ray observatories: Astronomers Detect Biggest Explosion Since the Big Bang

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Physicists Say They’ve Found Evidence of Elusive Axion Particle – Futurism

Posted: at 10:23 am

An international team of physicists claim they may have found evidence for a long-theorized type of subatomic particle called the axion.

Theaxion was first suggested in the 1970s to explain discrepancies in particlephysics. They have also become a popular way to explain the existence of dark matter, the nebulous stuff that makes up 85 percent of the mass of the universe. But scientists have never found direct evidence of them before until, perhaps, now.

As part of the XENON1T Dark Matter Experiment,detailed in a lengthyNew York Timesstory about the discovery, researchers set up two tons of ultra-pure liquefied xenon in a vat under an Italian mountain. Xenon is a noble gas that is extremely stable, an inertness that makes it a perfect candidate to detect the presence of any particles that pass through it.

The team announced that they found a surprising excess of events of particles interacting with the xenon particles events that the scientists couldnt account for using the standard model of physics.

The scientists suggest there are three explanations for this excess.One is contamination in the tank. It could also be caused by neutrinos, a well-established particle.

The third explanation is far more bold, and could have sweeping implications in the world of physics. The interactions could be as a result of axions potentially the first observation of the elusive particle.

While axions are not currently a proposed direct explanation for dark matter, they couldve set the stage for the creation of dark matter in the early stages of our universe.

Scientists are undeniably excited by this third possibility,though theyre also urging restraint due to the other potential explanations.

Im trying to be calm here, but its hard not to be hyperbolic, Neal Weiner, a particle theorist at New York University, who was not involved in the research, told The New York Times. If this is real, calling it a game changer would be an understatement.

If this bears out, and if is a big question, this is the biggest game changer in my corner of physics since the discovery of cosmic acceleration, Chanda Prescod-Weinstein, a physicist at the University of New Hampshire who also wasnt involved, told Live Science in an email.

Othersare calling for more time before popping the champagne corks.

Despite being excited about this excess, we should be very patient, Luca Grandi, a physicist at the University of Chicago and co-author of the yet-to-be-peer-reviewed paper, told Quanta Magazine.

A much larger experiment, with sensitivity levels dialed up, had to be delayed by the coronavirus lockdown in Italy. It may still take place later this year, according to the Times.

To put the statistics in perspective, Kai Martens, a physicist at the University of Tokyo who worked on the experiment, told Live Science that theres about a 2 in 10,000 chance that random background radiation was behind the excess events rather than axions themselves. That kind of probability falls well short of the threshold physicists typically try to achieve before considering a discovery to be well-established.

So far, the dominant explanation for the existence of dark matter has been the existence of so called weakly interacting massive particles, which have the amusing acronym WIMPs. WIMPs are hypothetical particles that are extremely high in mass and could account for most if not all of dark matter.

But over time, physicists have become increasingly interested in exploring the possibility of axions as well.

READ MORE: Seeking Dark Matter, They Detected Another Mystery [The New York Times]

More on axions: Scientists May Have Identified the Particles That Make Up Dark Matter

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