Tech

Fundamental physics is frustrating physicists

DEEP in a disused zinc mine in Japan, 50,000 tonnes of purified water held in a vast cylindrical stainless-steel tank are quietly killing theories long cherished by physicists. Since 1996, the photomultiplier-tube detectors (pictured above) at Super-Kamiokande, an experiment under way a kilometre beneath Mount Ikeno, near Hida, have been looking for signs that one of the decillion (1033) or ...

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Sometimes, computer programs seem too human for their own good

DIGITAL assistants such as Siri and Cortana are increasingly common on phones and computers. Most are designed to give their users the impression that a humanlike intelligence lies behind the program’s friendly voice. It does not, of course. But dozens of experiments over the years have shown that people readily build strong bonds with computerised helpers which are endowed with ...

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A new satellite will test ways to capture space debris

THERE is an awful lot of junk in space. The latest data from the European Space Agency suggest some 7,500 tonnes of it now orbits Earth. It ranges from defunct satellites and rocket parts to nuts, bolts, shards of metal and even flecks of paint. But something as small as a paint fleck can still do serious damage if it ...

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Might a recent extrasolar visitor be an alien spacecraft?

’OUMUAMUA, an object tumbling through space that was discovered on October 19th, has already made history. The speed at which it is moving relative to the sun means that it cannot be native to the solar system. Its official designation is thus 1I/2017 U1, with the “I” standing for “interstellar”—the first time this designation has ever been used. That is ...

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Military robots are getting smaller and more capable

ON NOVEMBER 12th a video called “Slaughterbots” was uploaded to YouTube. It is the brainchild of Stuart Russell, a professor of artificial intelligence at the University of California, Berkeley, and was paid for by the Future of Life Institute (FLI), a group of concerned scientists and technologists that includes Elon Musk, Stephen Hawking and Martin Rees, Britain’s Astronomer Royal. It ...

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British wine glasses have got bigger over the years

IN 1674 George Ravenscroft, an English glass merchant, was granted a patent for the discovery made at his factory in London that adding lead oxide to the melt resulted in a clearer, more durable product. Thus was born lead crystal, and with it the fashion, in England, of drinking wine from glass vessels rather than, say, pewter ones. Wine glasses ...

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