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Best of the Web

A bioterror plot, a love robot and why Google is hot

Best of the web: A bioterror plot, a love robot and why Google is hot

(Copyright: Getty Images)

Our pick of the week’s science and technology stories include the predictive future of search, personalized bioweapons and the danger of falling for a machine.

Google Now: Behind the predictive future of search
Dieter Bohn | The Verge | 29 October 2012

Google is using what it knows about you (which is a lot) to build Google Now. It combines voice search with "cards" that guess what you might want to know at any given moment. It's a kind of pre-emptive search to help with the logistics of everyday life. It's not yet widely available and users give it mixed reviews (see the comments section after the article) but this is just the beginning. In time, it'll run our lives.

Can Andrea Rossi's infinite-energy black box power the world – or just scam it?
Steve Featherstone | Popsci | 23 October 2012

Andrea Rossi – a lone Italian inventor with questionable credentials and a history as a convicted con artist – has convinced some researchers that his "black box" can harness a new type of nuclear reaction. It promises nearly infinite energy cheaply and with no radioactive by-products. "Could it be true? Could a solo inventor working out of a warehouse in Bologna really have built a fusion device that could power the planet?"

Exclusive first read: Hallucinations, by Oliver Sacks
Oliver Sacks | NPR | 24 October 2012

An excerpt from Sacks's new book. In this passage, Sacks discusses auditory hallucinations, otherwise known as "hearing voices". It can be a signifier of mental illness but, says Sacks, many otherwise healthy people hear hallucinatory voices too. The most common auditory hallucination is hearing your own name spoken.

An electric cure for the mind
Carl Zimmer | Discover | 25 October 2012

Patients with severe depression who don't respond to psychotherapy or antidepressant drugs may be helped by ECT, commonly known as shock therapy. It's had a bad press over the years, and no one has really understood how or why it works. Carl Zimmer describes the new experiments that are getting close to an answer.

Hacking the President's DNA
Andrew Hessel, Marc Goodman and Steven Kotler | The Atlantic | 25 October 2012

"The US government is surreptitiously collecting the DNA of world leaders, and is reportedly protecting that of Barack Obama. Decoded, these genetic blueprints may provide the basis for the creation of personalised bioweapons that could take down a president and leave no trace." This long article starts with a fictional scenario, before moving on to the possibilities thrown up by present-day research. File under "worrying".

The love bot
Robert Ito | Pacific Standard | 30 October 2012

"There are robots that comfort lonely shut-ins, assist patients suffering from dementia, and help autistic kids learn how to interact with their human peers." They perform undeniably useful tasks. But people are coming to love and trust robots. Where will it lead? And are we ready for this?

Proust wasn’t a neuroscientist. Neither was Jonah Lehrer
Boris Kachka | New York | 28 October 2012

Ouch. On the fall of the popular science writer. "Neuroscience, evolutionary biology, behavioral economics are fashionable because of their newness. In these fields, in which shiny new insights so rarely pan out, every populariser must be, almost by definition, a huckster." Jonah Lehrer told the story so well, too well as it turned out.

Bonus read of the week: A brief history of time
What is time? Why isn't it the same everywhere? Can we travel through time, or distort it? Will there be an end to time? And how on earth do our brains cope with all this? Read The Browser's special report on Time to find out.

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