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Tag: Scientific Method (Page 1 of 244)

First the cloud, now AI takes on the scientific method

Can give this to AI—generally more visually interesting than "the cloud." (credit: Disney)

Back when I was doing research, one of my advisors once joked that, if you wait long enough, you can produce an old result using new methods, manage to get it published, and everyone will be impressed. I think his time limit was 15 years. Apparently, when it comes to big ideas about science (rather than scientific results), the schedule's a bit accelerated.

Just shy of 10 years ago, Chris Anderson, then Editor-in-Chief at Wired, published a piece in which he claimed that cloud computing was making the scientific method irrelevant. All those models and theories didn't matter, so long as an algorithm could identify patterns in your data. The piece was wrong then, as I explained at the time (see below). It hasn't gotten any more right in the meantime.

Yet a quote from Chris Anderson's article led off a new column last month that essentially says Anderson was right, he just had the wrong reason. It's not cloud computing that's going to make theory irrelevant—it's AI, the piece argues. Once trained, AI can recognize patterns using rules that we don't comprehend. Set it loose on scientific data, and it can pull things out without needing anything like a model or a theory.

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The future: NASA uses 3D printing to test its new expandable habitat


It has now been a year since NASA successfully expanded a habitat attached to the International Space Station, the experimental Bigelow Expandable Activity Module. Initial tests on the module suggest that expandable habitats may play an important role as NASA considers how best to expand human activity into deep space.

During the first year, NASA and its astronauts on board the station have sought primarily to test the module's ability to withstand space debris—as a rapidly depressurized habitat would be a bad thing in space. And indeed, sensors inside the module have recorded "a few probable" impacts from micrometeoroid debris strikes, according to NASA's Langley Research Center. Fortunately, the module's expandable’s mulitple layers of kevlar-like weave have prevented any penetration by the debris.

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A ramble through some solutions for the Anthropocene

(credit: urbanfeel)

To say that David Biello’s new book, The Unnatural World, is not uplifting would be an understatement. Its upshot is that we have seriously f—ed up this planet, along with all of the organisms and ecosystems residing on it, and the situation is likely to get much, much worse. But that's hardly news at this point.

Biello knows that something must be done to keep ourselves from putting yet more CO2 into the atmosphere and to counter or adapt to the effects of all the CO2 we’ve spewed thus far. His book is an attempt to explore our options for doing so. But the resulting book is rambling, disorganized, and disjointed, filled with belabored, needlessly complicated sentences like “China is living in the future past, a Dickensian steam punk sci-fi drama in Mandarin, complete with high heels and disfigured orphans.” (?)

Each paragraph feels like it barely holds together, let alone each chapter or the book as a whole. Still, The Unnatural World is sobering and important.

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A year of digging through code yields “smoking gun” on VW, Fiat diesel cheats

Enlarge / Volkswagen AG Turbocharged Direct Injection (TDI) vehicles sit parked in a storage lot at San Bernardino International Airport (SBD) in San Bernardino, California, U.S., on Wednesday, April 5, 2017. Volkswagen agreed last year to buy back about 500,000 diesels that it rigged to pass US emissions tests if it can’t figure out a way to fix them. In the meantime, the company is hauling them to storage lots, such as ones at an abandoned NFL stadium outside Detroit, the Port of Baltimore and a decommissioned Air Force base in California. Photographer: Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg via Getty Images (credit: Getty Images)

Researchers from Bochum, Germany, and San Diego, California, say they’ve found the precise mechanisms that allowed diesel Volkswagens and Audis to engage or disengage emissions controls depending on whether the cars were being driven in a lab or driven under real-world conditions. As a bonus, the researchers also found previously-undisclosed code on a diesel Fiat 500 sold in Europe.

Auto manufacturers have been cheating on emissions control tests for decades, but until recently, their cheats were fairly simple. Temperature-sensing or time-delay switches could cut the emissions control system when a car was being driven under certain conditions.

These days, cars are an order of magnitude more complex, making it easier for manufacturers to hide cheats among the 100 million lines of code that make up a modern, premium-class vehicle.

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I was struck by lightning yesterday—and boy am I sore

(credit: Aurich Lawson / Derek Riggs)

Around Memorial Day weekend four years ago, Ars Technical Director Jason Marlin was simply minding his own business in a new home office, enjoying Carolina thunderstorms after recently moving to Asheville, North Carolina. He'll never forget what happened next. Since our pals at Mosaic recently dug deep into the aftermath of lightning strikes, we thought we'd share Jason's first-person account once more. This story from our archives first ran in May 2013.

"Sir, look at me—did you have any shoes on?" asked the emergency medical tech. "Were you wearing shoes when you were struck?"

"Huh?" I wondered, a little dazed. "What's with the shoe obsession?"

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