The biggest rocket in the world prepares for its maiden voyage

TECHNOLOGICAL progress is not always straightforward. Before Concorde’s first commercial flight in 1976 supersonic passenger-travel was science fiction. Since that aircraft’s last hurrah, in 2003, it has become historical fiction instead. Similarly with rockets, the most powerful built (almost five times more powerful than anything flying today) was the Saturn V, which carried human beings to the moon. It last ...

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Are programs better than people at predicting reoffending?

IN AMERICA, computers have been used to assist bail and sentencing decisions for many years. Their proponents argue that the rigorous logic of an algorithm, trained with a vast amount of data, can make judgments about whether a convict will reoffend that are unclouded by human bias. Two researchers have now put one such program, COMPAS, to the test. According ...

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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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