The Conversation, Author at Stuff

The Conversation

Versions of Han Solo’s blaster exist – and they’re more powerful than real lightsabers would be

People who think physics is boring couldn’t be more wrong. It can explain everything from spooky interactions on the tiny scale of atoms and particles to how the entire universe behaves. As if that wasn’t enough, it can also be used to assess how realistic futuristic technology in science fiction is. My area of expertise – plasma physics – can explain many aspects of both lightsabers and the Death...[Read More]

Debunking the 6 biggest myths about technology addiction

How concerned should people be about the psychological effects of screen time? Balancing technology use with other aspects of daily life seems reasonable, but there is a lot of conflicting advice about where that balance should be. Much of the discussion is framed around fighting “addiction” to technology. But to me, that resembles a moral panic, giving voice to scary claims based on weak data. Fo...[Read More]

What Facebook isn’t telling us about its fight against online abuse

Facebook has for the first time made available data on the scale of abusive comments posted to its site. This may have been done under the growing pressure by organisations for social media companies to be more transparent about online abuse, or to gain credibility after the Cambridge Analytica data scandal. Either way, the figures do not make for pleasurable reading. In a six-month period from Oc...[Read More]

Four ways your Google searches and social media affect your opportunities in life

Whether or not you realise or consent to it, big data can affect you and how you live your life. The data we create when using social media, browsing the internet and wearing fitness trackers are all collected, categorised and used by businesses and the state to create profiles of us. These profiles are then used to target advertisements for products and services to those most likely to buy them, ...[Read More]

70 years of instant photos, thanks to inventor Edwin Land’s Polaroid camera

It probably happens every minute of the day: A little girl demands to see the photo her parent has just taken of her. Today, thanks to smartphones and other digital cameras, we can see snapshots immediately, whether we want to or not. But in 1944 when 3-year-old Jennifer Land asked to see the family vacation photo that her dad had just taken, the technology didn’t exist. So her dad, Edwin Land, in...[Read More]

What is 5G? The next generation of wireless, explained

Every decade or so, the wireless industry rolls out a new cellular communications standard that can transmit more data more quickly. Already under development is the next round, called “5G” because it’s the fifth major generation of these standards for encoding and transmitting data over radio waves. The first generation, retroactively called 1G, was a fully analog system for transmitting voice. I...[Read More]

What is doxxing, and why is it so scary?

It’s almost a given that you have personal information available online. Beyond social media and online discussion boards, there are public records of property ownership and voter registration, as well as massive databases of financial information assembled by credit-rating agencies. Taken individually, many of these pieces of information are benign. So you cast a ballot in the 2016 presidential e...[Read More]

Smart windows could combine solar panels and TVs too

Imagine standing in front of a wall of windows, surveying the view. You hear someone enter the room behind you. You turn. “Welcome,” you say. “Here is the video I wanted to show you.” At the press of a button, the view vanishes and the windows transform into a high-definition TV screen. No, your friend isn’t James Bond, and you aren’t the next Q. Still, even as you watch the video, your window-TV ...[Read More]

We asked people if they would trust driverless cars

We’re promised a future with driverless cars on our roads, but do people really trust the technology to take us safely on journeys? New research, published this month in the Journal of Engineering and Technology Management, has found that we may be more willing to trust driverless cars in certain situations, but not so much in other cases. Driverless cars offer many potential uses. For example, ju...[Read More]

Counter-terrorism police are now training with virtual terrorists

What if you could save an airport from terrorists, escape insurgents in South Sudan, and rescue civilians in an underground station all in one morning? With modern technology, the ability to recreate these scenarios within virtual and augmented reality is here, and we’re using it to help train counter-terrorism officers and aid workers. Historically, such training would be provided through classro...[Read More]

4 ways internet of things toys endanger children

As Amazon releases an Echo Dot smart-home device aimed at children, it’s entering a busy and growing marketplace. More than one-third of U.S. homes with children has at least one “internet of things” connected toy – like a cuddly creature who can listen to and respond to a child’s inquiries. Many more of these devices are on the way, around the world and in North America specifically. These toys w...[Read More]

Why do people risk their lives for the perfect selfie?

Earlier this month, an Indian man was killed while trying to take a selfie next to a wounded bear. It’s actually the third selfie-related death in India since December: On two separate occasions, elephants ended up taking the lives of people trying to snap images with the mammals. A news report about the bear attack. Animals don’t pose the only danger to selfie seekers. Heights have also resulted ...[Read More]

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