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Rising robots, online spies and dying koalas

Robots rising and koalas dying

(Copyright: Getty Images)

Our pick of the week’s science and technology stories include our online future battles, bizarre viral outbreaks and the death of an astronomy great.

They know what you're shopping for
Jennifer Valentino-Devries & Jeremy Singer-Vine | Wall Street Journal | 7 December 2012

Your online browsing habits are less private and anonymous than you may think. Go into a car showroom and, if they already have your email address, they'll know how serious you are, where else you've been looking online and what for. The boundary between our public and private lives is being redrawn, and most of the time we aren't even aware of it.  

Peter Thiel: The future of legal technology
Blake Masters | Blake Masters | 7 December 2012

Notes from Peter Thiel's recent guest lecture at Stanford. The PayPal co-founder contends that the machinery of justice will get ever more automated and computerised. It may be a frightening prospect, if we think of automatons as remorseless and pitiless. But it's not as if the current human-run justice system is gentle or forgiving.

Past pandemics are in our genes
Carl Zimmer | Slate | 6 December 2012

"To understand what it means to be human, you have to understand koalas," says Carl Zimmer. "Or, to be more precise, you have to understand how they are dying from a bizarre viral outbreak that has been raging for the past 150 years or so." Such viruses have helped make us what we are today.

Larry Page on Google
Miguel Helft | Fortune | 11 December 2012

A conversation with Google's CEO. "My job is mostly getting people not to think about our competition. There's a tendency for people to think about the things that exist. Our job is to think of the thing you haven't thought of yet that you really need"

The robot economy and the new rentier class
Izabella Kaminska | FT Alphaville | 10 December 2012

Intricate reflection on how technological change can have a paradoxical economic impact. New technology raises productivity and hours worked, bringing abundance closer. "Incumbent interests" react by engineering scarcity in an attempt to protect their relative wealth.

Invasion of the cyber hustlers
Steven Poole | New Statesman | 6 December 2012

Many of us enjoy reading future-of-media bloggers like Jeff Jarvis, Jay Rosen or Clay Shirky. But not Steven Poole. He attacks them as internet "booster gurus" and "little Pol Pots of the touchscreen and Twitter... They agitate for constant revolution. The main beneficiaries will be the giant technology companies before whose virtual image they prostrate themselves."

110 predictions for the next 110 years
Anonymous | Popular Mechanics | 10 December 2012

A list of thoughts with brief explanations. Some very neat ideas, some fairly outlandish ones, some even beginning to happen now. Self-driving, intelligent (and affordable) electric cars would be lovely, please. Now. But what about farmscrapers and nanobots?

Bonus read: One of the great popularisers of astronomy, Sir Patrick Moore, died this week at the age of 89. Sir Patrick was well known to British television viewers over more than half a century and inspired thousands of us to take a closer interest in the stars. For those like me whose knowledge remains at the beginner stage, I thoroughly recommend this interview we did at The Browser with one of Sir Patrick's successors, Philip Plait, author of the Bad Astronomy blog. He told us about the wonders of the universe, and the best books to read on the subject. 

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