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China’s designs to engineer genius babies

China’s designs to engineer genius babies

(Copyright: Science Photo Library)

Our pick of the week’s science and technology stories, including a plan to boost a superpower's IQ, bringing vanished species back to life and the resurgence of useless machines.

We should be allowed to unlock everything we own
Kyle Wiens | Wired | 18 March 2013

"We really don’t own our stuff anymore (at least not fully); the manufacturers do. Because modifying modern objects requires access to information: code, service manuals, error codes, and diagnostic tools. Modern cars are part horsepower, part high-powered computer. Silicon permeates and powers almost everything." 

Insupportable equilibrium of economic thought
Mark Buchanan | Bloomberg | 18 March 2013

"We’ll never understand economies and markets until we get over the nutty idea that they alone – unlike almost every other complex system in the world – are inherently stable and have no internal weather. It’s time we began learning about the socioeconomic weather, categorizing its storms, and learning how to prevent them, or to see them coming." 

Bringing them back to life
Carl Zimmer | National Geographic | 15 March 2013

"The notion of bringing vanished species back to life – some call it de-extinction – has hovered at the boundary between reality and science fiction for more than two decades." Now it has crossed over into reality. Scientists have cloned a goat and a frog that were previously extinct. Coming soon: mammoths. But probably not dinosaurs. 

China is engineering genius babies
Aleks Eror | Vice | 15 March 2013

Genetics firm in southern China buys DNA from "2,000 of the world's smartest people", hoping to find the alleles that determine intelligence. Future parents will fertilise many eggs, then choose the most promising. "Even if it only boosts the average kid by five IQ points, that’s a huge difference in the competitiveness of the country." [UPDATE: 26/03: See also this by Will Oremus in Slate, in which he questions some of the claims in the Vice article.]

Looking for something useful to do with your time? Don't try this
Abigail Pesta | Wall Street Journal | 13 March 2013

On the history, and resurgence, of useless machines – for example, the small box with an on/off switch and a hinged lid; you turn on the switch, and a hand pops out that turns off the switch. Invented by Marvin Minsky at MIT. Refined by Claude Shannon. Admired by Arthur C. Clarke. Now being built again by an engineer in Saskatchewan. 

Towards a complex, realistic and moral tech criticism
Alexis Madrigal | Atlantic | 13 March 2013

Review of Evgeny Morozov's book, To Save Everything, Click Here, which seems to be emerging as a major text on technology, ideology and society. "Morozov's ultimate goal is to destroy the ideology of technology, so that particular technologies can be used in specific situations without the baggage of other people's nonsense." 

Is there a word for "nerd" in Chinese?
Victor Mair | Language Log | 5 March 2013

First we define what "nerd" means in English: "It doesn't just signify a bookish or pedantic person, but rather someone who is socially inept or square, perhaps, but not necessarily, because of a consuming commitment to intellectual or technical pursuits." For which the closest equivalent in Chinese is the assimilated English word "geek".

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