The American Society of Civil Engineers has given America’s roads a D rating. But a recent study shows that trying to raise that grade without accounting for climate change could put the country’s roadways at risk.
No one expects the machinery of progress to roll backwards, but sometimes it seems that no one is watching the speedometer (or manning the brakes, assuming any exist). Is this a fair assessment? If so, should we be worried — and what can we do about it?
In this feature, experts on technology, risk, science, policy and neuroscience discuss risk, innovation and how our values affect our conceptions of both.
Stable, nontoxic refrigerants changed the world, transforming food storage, expanding Sun Belt populations, even helping early movie theaters succeed. But they also wrecked the ozone layer — Earth’s shield against harmful ultraviolet radiation.
Today, as stockpiles dwindle — and prices rise — due to phase-outs set by the Montreal Protocols 30 years ago, the future of Freon and its successors remains in doubt.
4-D printing remains in its early stages, It’s certainly too early to tell if it’s anything more than a buzzword, let alone if its promise will translate into practicality. But the sorts of people who bet on these kinds of things are betting on it.
And why not? Suppose a structure could unfold itself, like origami. Imagine if walls could flex or stiffen in response to shifting loads, or if a buried pipe could change shape to accommodate varying water flows — or to pump water via peristalsis, like your digestive system. Through 4-D printing, nothing is set in stone unless you want it to be.
As sci-fi and techno-horror flicks are fond pointing out, the future is chock-full of things that want to kill us. Yep, our own technological progeny want to consign us to the great bit-bucket in the sky but, hey, at least we were warned, right?
Well, sure, if we had any intention of heeding these cinematic Cassandras. Think about it: The Terminator warns us about Skynet, so what do we do? We set to work on autonomous drones. Christine frightens us with a possessed 1958 Plymouth Fury, so we get busy designing self-driving cars. It’s like we want to die.
And then there’s the Internet of Things: Trillions of everyday objects exchanging data, everywhere, all the time, with only the most basic human oversight. Can’t wait to see how that one turns out.