While Hollywood has firmly planted the idea in our minds that robots may very well turn out to be evil, academic research into dangerous interactions between humans and robots has only just begun.
Credit The Halcyon Company / The Halcyon Company
When they come — and they are coming — will the robots we deploy into human culture be capable of evil? Well, perhaps "evil" is too strong a word. Will they be capable of inflicting harm on human beings in ways that go beyond their programing?
While this may seem like a question for the next installment of The Terminator franchise (or The Matrix or whatever, pick your favorite), it's a serious question in robotics and it's being taken up by researchers now.
This week, NASA is trying to do its part to raise science literacy. To give people a better understanding of Earth's position in the solar system, the agency's posted a picture of our planet taken from a billion miles away, give or take 100 million miles or so. And joining me now to talk about the picture, and why NASA took it, is NPR's Joe Palca. Joe, good to see you.
The color of the corpse flower is meant to mimic the color of rotting flesh and raw meat.
Credit Heather Rousseau / NPR
The line to see the thing that was supposed to smell like rotting flesh wrapped around the U.S. Botanic Garden in Washington, D.C., on Monday night. Most folks who braved the heat and hourlong wait weren't greeted with the overwhelming stench of death, but rather the smell of sweat and intense, intense humidity.
Originally published on Wed July 24, 2013 10:11 am
A harmful trio (from left): a deer tick, lone star tick and dog tick.
Credit Getty Images
Last year, scientists got the chance to solve a medical mystery — well, at least half of it. This week the final puzzle pieces fell into place, as investigators tracked the newly identified virus to an eight-legged bug.
The mystery actually began with two Missouri farmers who came down with a strange illness in 2009. They had high fevers, diarrhea and nausea. Their platelet counts dropped dramatically, though they didn't experience any abnormal bleeding.
Dolphins are like humans in many ways: They're part of complex social networks and, just as in people, a dolphin's brain is big, relative to the size of its body. But there's something else, too — a study published Monday shows these acrobats of the sea use name-like whistles to identify and communicate with each other.
A crowd formed today at the U.S. Botanic Garden here in Washington, D.C. It's a place to see beautiful flowers and usually ones that smell fantastic. But today, one exotic specimen on display was the opposite of that. It's the titan arum and NPR's Allison Keyes tells us people flocked to the greenhouse in hopes of getting a rare whiff of the flower's putrid essence.
ALLISON KEYES, BYLINE: From the line and the excited faces of titan arum fans hurrying down the path to the door, you'd think The Beatles were here.
Originally published on Mon July 22, 2013 11:27 am
By Tania Lombrozo
If you listened to All Things Considered last week, or happened to glance at The New York Times science section, you might have learned about a new language — Warlpiri rampaku or "Light Warlpiri" — created in a remote village in Northern Australia and documented by University of Michigan linguist Carmel O'Shannessy.
Not so long ago, most people thought that the only good microbe was a dead microbe.
But then scientists started to realize that even though some bugs can make us sick and even kill us, most don't.
In fact, in the past decade attitudes about the bacteria, fungi, viruses and other microbes living all over our bodies has almost completely turned around. Now scientists say that not only are those microbes often not harmful, we can't live without them.
Wildfires were once essential to the American West. Prairies and forests burned regularly, and those fires not only determined the mix of flora and fauna that made up the ecosystem, but they regenerated the land.
When people replaced wilderness with homes and ranches, they aggressively eliminated fire. But now, scientists are trying to bring fire back to the wilderness, to recreate what nature once did on its own.
One place they're doing this is Centennial Valley, in southwestern Montana.