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As icons and rituals adapt to newer technologies, the rise of robotics and AI can change the way we practice and experience spirituality.

Some 100,000 years ago, fifteen people, eight of them children, were buried on the flank of Mount Precipice, just outside the southern edge of Nazareth in today’s Israel. One of the boys still held the antlers of a large red deer clasped to his chest, while a teenager lay next to a necklace of seashells painted with ochre and brought from the Mediterranean Sea shore 35 km away. The bodies of Qafzeh are some of the earliest evidence we have of grave offerings, possibly associated with religious practice.

Although some type of belief has likely accompanied us from the beginning, it’s not until 50,000–13,000 BCE that we see clear religious ideas take shape in paintings, offerings, and objects. This is a period filled with Venus figurines, statuettes made of stone, bone, ivory and clay, portraying women with small heads, wide hips, and exaggerated breasts. It is also the home of the beautiful lion man, carved out of mammoth ivory with a flint stone knife and the oldest-known zoomorphic (animal-shaped) sculpture in the world. …

This week, the coverage of one of humanity’s most impressive milestones was reduced to a climax of fire. Starship didn’t fail. Science divulgation, however, might have.

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Artist Illustration of BFR at stage separation (2018). Original from Official SpaceX Photos.

It’s finally happening. I’m sitting in front of the TV after a three-day of an excruciating wait. It looks like Starship is ready to launch and the excitement and exhaustion are palpable. From our different corners of the world, space enthusiasts (and everyone else we could drag in) watch in awe as the 394ft tall Goliath finally fights the dense layer that keeps us all breathing. Up, up it goes, defying all of our preconceptions about what was possible in our lifetime.

Like a perfectly coordinated dance, Starship’s newly developed Raptor engines manage to climb, roll, and — to everyone’s amazement, bellyflop back into a vertical position. Each of these steps is, on its own, a historical achievement. The gorgeous gimbal and throttles as the novel engines glide back to earth make for an incredibly memorable moment. Even though the coda of this ballet is a ball of flame, YouTube streamers are giggling, the chatrooms celebrate, and Musk is tweeting again.

The aviation industry has committed to decreasing greenhouse gas emissions by 50% by 2050. In order to do so, companies are exploring the use of sustainable alternative jet fuels that can help address cost, environmental, and energy security challenges. Among the most promising candidates are hydrogen-fueled aircraft, which could enter the market as soon as 2035.

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Due to gasoline-based jet fuel use, commercial aviation faces a variety of challenges. Although jets today are 80% more fuel-efficient per seat kilometer than those from the 1960s, there’s still no practical alternative mode of transport for long-haul flights. Worldwide, flights produced 915 million tons of CO2 in 2019, about 2% of the total human-induced emissions.

Several companies have begun looking for alternative and sustainable fuels that can reduce emissions and expand domestic energy sources, diversifying the supply and generating economic development in rural communities.

Much has been accomplished in the last decade with a wide array of organizations working to support the development of sustainable alternative jet fuels. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), for example, runs several programs and activities such as the Commercial Aviation Alternative Fuels Initiative (CAFFI), the Continuous Lower Energy, Emissions, and Noise (CLEEN) Program, and the Airport Cooperative Research Program (ACRP). …

From exascale computing to 5nm graphics cards and 8K gaming, the most anticipated products of the year 2021 will bring unprecedented innovation, speed, and performance. These are the most promising announcements and our predictions for next year’s computer technology evolution.

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Image courtesy of Cristiano Firmani.

A year ago, no-one would have been able to foresee how 2020 would leave an indelible mark on our collective memory. The COVID-19 pandemic has had a profound impact on all areas of our lives, from how we work to how we communicate with each other. Throughout this experience, technology has played a big part in helping us cope and adapt to the new challenges.

We’re now approaching the end of the year, and alongside the hopes for a vaccine that can finally ease restrictions to movement, we’re looking at what 2021 will bring for the computing tech sector.

Several exciting announcements have been made for products that promise to revolutionize the computer industry. Below are some of our predictions based on the technologies we look the most forward to. …

According to a market report, the global drone market is expected to grow from $22 billion in 2020 to $42.8 billion in 2025, driven by an acceleration in developments from China, Japan, and India. Drone deliveries could take a central role, alongside enthusiasts that could help sales reach $12 billion in 2021.

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Drones are becoming increasingly popular. Over the past few years, these miniature pilotless aircraft have become indispensable for various businesses and government organizations due to their ability to increase efficiency and decrease workloads and production costs.

Because drones can be controlled by a remote or a smartphone app, they can reach remote areas easily. For example, throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, drones have been used to deliver groceries and medicines in several programs across the nation and the globe, illustrating the possibilities and potential for this technology.

The Drone Market Report 2020–2025 forecasts that “the global drone market will grow from $22.5 billion in 2020 to over $42.8 billion in 2025 at a CAGR of 13.8%,” with the Asian market replacing North America’s market as the world’s largest. …

The manipulation and fabrication of digital images and videos is not a new phenomenon. However, recent developments in AI and deep neural networks have made the process of creating face-swapping deepfakes faster and easier. Deepfakes are being used to intimidate, demean, harass, undermine, and destabilize. This sophisticated synthetic media constitutes a new and unique challenge in the broader battle against online disinformation and the weaponization of technology.

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Image courtesy of Markus Spiske.

Deepfakes are 21st Century Photoshopping. The name comes from the AI used to create them, deep learning — a process that involves neural networks called autoencoders. Deepfakes can place a person’s head on someone else’s body or create entirely fictional photos from scratch. Voices can also be deepfaked through what is called “voice clones” or “voice skins,” which are able to imitate a public figure’s speech.

Several people (and companies) have become victims of deepfake technology. In March 2019, a UK subsidiary of a German energy firm paid $235,230 (200,000 euros) into a Hungarian bank account after a call from a fraudster who mimicked the German CEO’s voice. In May of the same year, a video of a speech by Nancy Pelosi was slowed and spliced giving the appearance that she was drunk or had dementia. …

The life science analytics market, which includes services and software, could reach a worth of $42.0 billion by 2025 (doubling that of 2020), at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 13.7% between 2020–2025. This growth will be driven by big data, technological advancements, increased adoption of analytics solutions in clinical trials, and the need for data standardization, among others.

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Image courtesy of Bill Oxford.

The benefits of analytics applied to life science are manifested in the early detection of prescription and treatment patterns across the entire health system. With the help of digital technologies, companies can improve their R&D productivity, manufacturing capabilities, sales effectiveness, and compliance management.

Life science analytics capitalizes on big data to increase global collaboration based on highly accurate clinical research by standardizing trial data and validating its adherence. For example, analytics can help detect potential risks early and enable them to be proactively addressed.

The global life science analytics market is expected to witness high growth during the forecast period 2020–2025. This growth can be attributed to an increase in the prevalence of chronic diseases, the demand for a more precise and personalized medicine, and a focus on improving patient outcomes. Various organizations are also receiving grants to develop personalized medicine based on big data solutions, primarily for cancer and diabetes. …

Reusable rockets have revolutionized access to space, reducing both the costs of access and the CO2 footprint of launches. Major entrepreneurial developments are to be expected in the coming years, including those from familiar frontrunners SpaceX and Blue Origin as well as new innovations from Virgin Galactic, ISRO, and Arianespace. Understanding the technology, its financial and environmental impacts, and their promising applications for space tourism, power generation, communications, and materials development, all hint at what’s to come.

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December 2015, Vandenberg Air Force Base, California. SpaceX’s Falcon 9 makes its successful return, the first-ever reusable rocket. Since then, recovering SpaceX rockets has become routine, but this hadn’t been the case during the early decades of spaceflight.

All rockets, satellites, and space probes until that day had been single-use items. The only objects that returned to our planet were human-carrying space capsules or sample canisters like Stardust (1999–2006) or Hayabusa (2005–2010), with the exception of the US Space Shuttle (1970s-2011) and the Soviet Union Buran (1980–1988), which had envisioned fully reusable yet too expensive and complex to operate spaceplanes.

Since 2012, several companies have been working on projects and prototypes for orbital and suborbital reusable spacecraft. SpaceX began developing what would become the Falcon9 and Falcon Heavy that same year. Blue Origin created the first VTVL rocket, New Shepard, in 2015 and managed to reach space by passing the Kármán line (62 mi) and returning for a propulsive landing. …

Once a formative event in a person’s life, rocket launches are now becoming a weekly occurrence anyone can access and follow online. However, we rarely stop to think about the environmental costs of commercial space flight. With space exploration becoming increasingly significant in the coming years, what are the trade-offs between propellant types and which threats should we get ready to address?

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During the past few days, we’ve seen a Russian Soyuz rocket depart from Plesetsk Cosmodrome, a Chinese Long March 4B rocket lift off from the Taiyuan launch in Shanxi, and a SpaceX Falcon 9 leave Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Captivated by the sights, we rarely stop to think about the environmental costs of space flight.

The depletion of stratospheric ozone is a widely studied and immediately concerning phenomenon, however, there are limited studies about how emissions from rocket engines that use liquid propellants can result in more significant losses.

As space exploration becomes a tangible every-day reality, it’s becoming essential to consider the cumulative impacts of frequent rocket launches on all areas of the environment, including global climate and ecosystem and human toxicity. …

Countries around the world have taken different measures to slow down or stop the spread of the virus. While China, South Korea, and Taiwan quickly dove into AI-powered screening and tracking, western democracies took a more human-driven direction. Almost ten months after the WHO declared the pandemic a global emergency, has one approach proven better than the other?

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An empty Lovat Lane, in London. Photo courtesy of Simon Mumenthaler.

The first case of a person suffering from the COVID-19 virus was reported to the World Health Organization in December 2019. Since then, the pandemic has impacted economic activity worldwide and changed — perhaps permanently, the way we work and communicate with each other.

Very few people would have anticipated, earlier this year, that this would become the biggest crisis of our generation, one that would leave an indelible mark on our collective memory.

During the last months, we’ve learned more about the virus. We know, now, that the transmission of COVID-19 occurs through respiratory droplets when a person coughs, sneezes, speaks, sings, or breathes heavily. The virus can also spread after infected people are in contact with objects such as tables, handrails, or doorknobs. A lot of the COVID-19’s impact has significantly affected urban centers. …


Yisela Alvarez Trentini

Anthropologist & User Experience Designer. I write about science and technology. Robot whisperer. VR enthusiast. Gamer. @yisela_at

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