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The Conversation, on electricity generated from microbes

The Conversation, on electricity generated from microbes

Four ways microbial fuel cells might revolutionise electricity production in the future Jackie Niam/Shutterstock Godfrey Kyazze, University of Westminster The world population is estimated to reach 9.5 billion by 2050. Given that most of our current energy is generated from fossil fuels, this creates significant challenges when it comes to providing enough sustainable electricity while mitigating climate change. One idea that has gained traction over recent years is generating electricity using bacteria in devices called microbial fuel cells (MFCs). These

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The Conversation, on manufacturing quieter drones

Make drones sound less annoying by factoring in humans at the design stage Shutterstock/DmitryKalinovsky Antonio J Torija Martinez, University of Salford These days almost everyone has either flown a drone or listened to the nasty whining sound they produce. Although small drones (up to 20kg) are about 40 decibels quieter than conventional civil aircraft, they produce a high pitched noise – which people tend to find very annoying. One Nasa study found that drone sounds were more annoying than those

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New Year? New Infrastructure – 2021

Adieu 2020! The year 2021 is only a few weeks away now and many organisations large and small are still looking to consider further digital transformation plans for next year. Old technology will still affect your performance as a business with or without Covid-19 How can you consistently and reliably transform across a distributed workforce though? Planning. Not a sexy answer, but incredibly effective. If you want to, for example, take advantage of Dell’s Financial Services offering to allow you

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The Conversation, on personality profiling using VR

How we discovered that VR can profile your personality Mark Nazh/Shutterstock Stephen Fairclough, Liverpool John Moores University Virtual reality (VR) has the power to take us out of our surroundings and transport us to far-off lands. From a quick round of golf, to fighting monsters or going for a skydive, all of this can be achieved from the comfort of your home. But it’s not just gamers who love VR and see its potential. VR is used a lot in

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The Conversation, on Spreadsheet errors

Excel errors: the UK government has an embarrassingly long history of spreadsheet horror stories TeodorLazarev/Shutterstock Simon Thorne, Cardiff Metropolitan University When the UK prime minister, Boris Johnson, first said the country would develop a £12 billion “world-beating” system for testing and tracing cases of COVID-19, few people probably imagined that it would be based around a £120 generic spreadsheet program. Yet the news that the details of 16,000 positive test cases had been lost because of an error made with

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Coronavirus: The Conversation, on AI and treating Covid-19

Teaching computers to read health records is helping fight COVID-19 – here’s how James Teo, King’s College London and Richard Dobson, King’s College London Medical records are a rich source of health data. When combined, the information they contain can help researchers better understand diseases and treat them more effectively. This includes COVID-19. But to unlock this rich resource, researchers first need to read it. We may have moved on from the days of handwritten medical notes, but the information

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The Conversation, on Quantum Computation

Major quantum computational breakthrough is shaking up physics and maths Quantum computers may be more trustworthy. Yurchanka Siarhei/Shutterstock Ittay Weiss, University of Portsmouth MIP* = RE is not a typo. It is a groundbreaking discovery and the catchy title of a recent paper in the field of quantum complexity theory. Complexity theory is a zoo of “complexity classes” – collections of computational problems – of which MIP* and RE are but two. The 165-page paper shows that these two classes

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The Conversation, on AI Chatbots

AI called GPT-3 can write like a human but don’t mistake that for thinking – neuroscientist Bas Nastassia/Shutterstock Guillaume Thierry, Bangor University Since it was unveiled earlier this year, the new AI-based language generating software GPT-3 has attracted much attention for its ability to produce passages of writing that are convincingly human-like. Some have even suggested that the program, created by Elon Musk’s OpenAI, may be considered or appears to exhibit, something like artificial general intelligence (AGI), the ability to

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The Conversation, on Robots in high-contact medical environments

Robots to be introduced in UK care homes to allay loneliness – that’s inhuman Fay Bound Alberti, University of York Some UK care homes are to deploy robots in an attempt to allay loneliness and boost mental health. The wheeled machines will “initiate rudimentary conversations, play residents’ favourite music, teach them languages, and offer practical help, including medicine reminders”. They are being introduced after an international trial found they reduced anxiety and loneliness. These robots can hold basic conversations and

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The Conversation, on the Fourth Industrial Revolution and Agriculture

The fourth agricultural revolution is coming – but who will really benefit? kung_tom/shutterstock David Rose, University of Reading and Charlotte-Anne Chivers, University of Gloucestershire Depending on who you listen to, artificial intelligence may either free us from monotonous labour and unleash huge productivity gains, or create a dystopia of mass unemployment and automated oppression. In the case of farming, some researchers, business people and politicians think the effects of AI and other advanced technologies are so great they are spurring

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