Wednesday Quickies

The coastline of Florida, as it will look sometime around 2200. This Antarctica thing is pretty serious.

I like to distract myself from my work by occasionally looking up what’s going on with some of the more exciting new technological initiatives, so I thought I’d start writing little digests of them in the middle of the week. Here goes.

First up this week is a whole series of stories about 3D printing. New uses for the technology keep cropping up. It’s been proposed for use in the decommissionning of nuclear plants, and it’s just been used in Haiti to make a prosthetic hand for a young boy. It’s also been proposed that it might be combined with drone technology to provide a quick and easy form of disaster relief. There’s not much to say here except that the technology seems to be coming into its own very quickly right now. I wonder when we’ll see the first major factory that uses it.

Relatedly, there’s now a robotic pharmacist dispensing drugs in a British hospital. Pharmacies, where strict mechanical accuracy is literally a matter of life and death, are actually an ideal place for robots. I don’t think very many people (aside from a few pharmacists, possibly) will object. But this is just one more place where commercial robots can continue to develop, becoming more effective, and more visible to those who might use them in other roles. Also, Google is now trying to get their self-driving cars to market. Perhaps as early as 2017. The automation of society continues apace. We’d better get going on that universal basic income.

Speaking of automation, The United Nations is debating the legality of military drones. Skynet jokes aside, this is actually pretty important. Drones are a political technology that allows rich countries to declare war on poor countries without having to put any of their own skin in the game. Let’s hope the UN comes up with some rules that at least make it harder for drones to be used as flippantly as they have been used up to this point.

A recent court case in Europe has established what is being called a “right to be forgotten“. That means that you have the right to ask Google to delist information about your past that you don’t want seen. I need time to gather my thoughts on this one. On the one hand, I can understand why it would be desirable from a privacy perspective. On the other hand, it seems pretty open to abuse from those with things to hide from the public.

And speaking of Europe (I’ll get better at segues. I promise.), Putin is making the International Space Station a bargaining chip in the diplomatic struggle over Ukraine. Good news for SpaceX, I imagine, and also further confirmation that spaceflight is heavily susceptible to geopolitics.

And lastly, in case you haven’t heard, the Western Antarctic Ice Sheet is collapsing. That means a sea level rise of at least 3 meters is now guaranteed. So do us all a favour and try and reduce your carbon emissions a little bit more, okay?

 

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