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Breathalysers of the future

Copyright: BACtrack)

Our pick of the week’s science and tech stories, including personalised drinking apps, China and intellectual property, and whether life has a purpose.

Breathalysers of the future
Travis Andrews | Atlantic | 27 June 2013

They used to be fearsome things wielded by the police. Now they are slick pieces of design for drinkers to carry in a pocket. The BACtrack, when Bluetooth-paired to your smartphone, will not only check the alcohol level in your breath as a proxy for your blood, but link you up with a database that tells you how drunk other people are around the world.

Fake it till you make it
Christopher Sprigman & Kal Raustiala | Foreign Affairs | 24 June 2013

Taking and using other people’s ideas and intellectual property is good for growth. It used to be the American way. Now it’s the Chinese way. “Just as copying allowed the economy of the United States to grow in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, today it allows China to do the same. And, just as the British overstated the economic threat posed by American copying back then, so, too, is the Chinese threat overblown today.”

Connecting the dots, missing the story
Evgeny Morozov | Slate | 24 June 2013

“There is an immense — but mostly invisible — cost to the embrace of Big Data by the intelligence community (and by just about everyone else in both the public and private sectors). That cost is the devaluation of individual and institutional comprehension, epitomised by our reluctance to investigate the causes of actions, and jump straight to dealing with their consequences.”

Does life have a purpose?
Michael Ruse | Aeon | 24 June 2013

This brief history of teleological thought, from Aristotle to Nagel, by way of Darwin, arrives at the answer: No. “There’s no sense for most scientists that a star is for anything, or that a molecule serves an end. But when we come to talk about living things, it seems very hard to shake off the idea that they have purposes and goals, which is served by the ways they have evolved.”

Pi versus information theory
Robert Lucky | IEEE Spectrum | 20 June 2013

The mathematical constant Pi is an infinite non-repeating decimal. Does it contain all possible number combinations? Probably. If so, does Pi contain all possible information? No, because data is not necessarily information. “For every fact you might find, you would also find the exact opposite Still, if we expanded pi out a few more places and a message appeared, that would be scary. Something to think about.”

Inside Digg’s race to build the new Google Reader
Mat Honan | Wired | 20 June 2013

As a near-full-time user of Google Reader, I may be prone to overestimate the general interest of this story. But it strikes me as an excellent account of how a project gets conceived and executed; and also a good insight into Betaworks, which seems to have the gift — denied to Google — of breathing life and warmth into its platforms, such as Digg and bit.ly, and making them play together intelligently.

What grounds paternal obligations?
Owen Schaefer | Practical Ethics | 18 June 2013

Should unwilling fathers be required to pay child support? “If one has a strongly intuitionistic approach, the biological model (where participation in a process of sexual intercourse resulting in pregnancy and childbirth is sufficient for obligation) is probably the best option. While it might lack in philosophical grounding, there are relatively few counterintuitive implications (at least that I can think of).”

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