Tech

To understand digital advertising, study its algorithms

ALAN MISLOVE studies algorithms. Recently, his research at Northeastern University, in Boston, has shown that Facebook’s software was leaking users’ phone numbers to advertisers. He has also found new ways to audit that same software for racial bias. But work like his faces challenges. Scraping data from public-facing websites often sails close to breaching their terms and conditions. And the ...

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Are research papers less accurate and truthful than in the past?

AN ESSENTIAL of science is that experiments should yield similar results if repeated. In recent years, however, some people have raised concerns that too many irreproducible results are being published (see chart 1). This phenomenon, it is suggested, may be a result of more studies having poor methodology, of more actual misconduct, or of both. Or it may not exist ...

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An out-of-control Chinese space station will soon fall to Earth

ITS name means “heavenly palace”. But Tiangong-1, an eight-tonne Chinese space station launched in 2011, will not remain in the heavens much longer. After visits from crews in 2012 and 2013, Tiangong-1’s mission officially ended in March 2016. A few months later China’s space agency appeared to confirm what amateur skywatchers had already suspected, that it had lost control of ...

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Making anaesthesia safer by tracking brain activity

Watching the waves AROUND 1936 three neurologists at Harvard Medical School raided the medicine cabinet, filling their boots with morphine, barbiturates, ethers and even cobra venom. They applied those substances to (apparently) willing volunteers and cemented primitive electrodes to their scalps and earlobes. They also collared a drunk and wired him up. With pen and paper, they then recorded how ...

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Using domestic animals to make human organs

TAKE the fertilised egg of a pig. From each cell in the resulting embryo cut out a gene or genes that promote the development of the animal’s heart. Inject human stem cells from a patient who needs a new heart into the embryo and then place it into the womb of a sow. Wait nine months. The result is an ...

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Making quantum computers reliable

CALCULATING machines that run on quantum bits (known as qubits, for short) are, by some accounts, the future of computation. Quantum computers have the theoretical advantage that they can solve with ease certain mathematical problems, such as the factorisation of large numbers, which are hard or impossible for classical machines. This is possible thanks to a qubit’s ability to remain, ...

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The ramifications of a new type of gene

WHAT’S a gene? You might think biologists had worked that one out by now. But the question is more slippery than may at first appear. The conventional answer is something like, “a piece of DNA that encodes the structure of a particular protein”. Proteins so created run the body. Genes, meanwhile, are passed on in sperm and eggs to carry ...

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Finding more time to detect a tsunami

TSUNAMI are terrible things. And part of their terror lies in their unpredictability. Even when a submarine earthquake that may cause one is detected, the information that is needed to determine whether a giant wave has actually been created takes time to gather. That is time unavailable for the evacuation of coastlines at risk. Contrariwise, issuing a warning when no ...

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