Karla Lant is an experienced freelance writer, journalist, editor, and adjunct professor. She focuses on science, technology, politics, education, and technical writing. Browse by publication below.
How did life first originate from nothing? This has been the focus of biologists, specifically astrobiologists, and popular theories have included everything from meteorites to seemingly random chemicals to luck. In 1859, Charles Darwin posited that “All organic beings that have lived on Earth could be descended from some primordial form,” in The Origin of Species. His basic idea was that chemical components and energy sources somehow spontaneously generated life in the primordial soup.
China is quickly transitioning away from paper currency, with nearly everyone in major urban centers using smartphones to pay for almost everything. Alipay and WeChat are the two dominant technologies in use in the country, and they are eclipsing cash almost completely as a payment option.
A recent Facebook report on the way chatbots converse with each other has given the world a glimpse into the future of language. In the report, researchers from the Facebook Artificial Intelligence Research lab (FAIR) describe training their chatbot “dialog agents” to negotiate using machine learning. The chatbots were eager and successful dealmaking pupils, but the researchers eventually realized they needed to tweak their model because the bots were creating their own negotiation language, diverting from human languages.
Sweden has passed a law via cross-party committee that dedicates the country to reduce its net carbon emissions to zero by 2045. This makes Sweden the first nation to adopt serious post-Paris Accord goals; its previous aim was to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050. This new law requires an action plan to be updated every four years, and creates an independent Climate Policy Council to ensure its goal is met.
On May 13, 2017, California smashed through another renewable energy milestone as its largest grid, controlled by the California Independent System Operator (CISO), got 67.2% of its energy from renewables — not including hydropower or rooftop solar arrays. Adding hydropower facilities into the mix, the total was 80.7%. Sunny days with plenty of wind along with full reservoirs and growing numbers of solar facilities were the principal factors in breaking the record. The CISO controls 80% of the state’s power grid.
Swedish startup Gavagai AB, a language technology company that originated at the Swedish Institute of Computer Science, has mastered 40 human languages with its language analysis software. Now, researchers from the KTH Royal Institute of Technology are teaming up with Gavagai AB to take on the language of dolphins, in a project undoubtedly focused as much on testing and expanding the system’s capabilities as deciphering the thoughts of dolphins.
Even without subsidies, new wind and solar power plants are usually cheaper than new coal, nuclear, or natural gas power plants. In fact, they are often not only cheaper, but substantially so. According to Lazard, levelized cost of energy (LCOE) estimates based on averages for the U.S. as a whole show that utility-scale renewables are far less expensive than conventional power sources — even when historical subsidies for conventional power sources, or social costs such as healthcare for coal-related health problems, aren’t taken into account.
A major river that originated from one of the largest glaciers in Canada vanished last year in only four days. In new research, scientists describe this event as a dramatic illustration of the extreme changes global warming can have (and is having) upon Earth’s geography. The disappearance of the Slims river, unexpected and abrupt, is the first case of “river piracy,” in which the flow of one river is suddenly diverted into another, that has ever been observed.
Researchers from the Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) have transformed a spinach leaf into functional heart tissue. The team’s goal was to recreate human organ tissue down to the fragile vascular networks of blood vessels it can’t survive without. Scientists had previously attempted to 3D print intricate vascular networks without success. This breakthrough could mean that the delicate vascular systems of plants are the key.