Tropical forest are large, complex and easy to get lost in—which isn’t helpful if you’re trying to study them. Now, scientists are using these amazing immersive mathematical models to understand the intricacies of tree canopies around the world.

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Fingerprints may be unique, but without an existing record they can’t help identify a person. Now, though, researchers can use chemical analysis of the prints to identify the gender of whoever left them behind.

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Microsoft’s Lumia 950 is the first interesting Windows phone to be released in a while, mostly because it’s the first phone designed specifically for Windows 10. It’s a phone created with the ambition of turning around Microsoft’s flailing mobile efforts.

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The Apple Watch and iPad are going to be some of the most popular gifts of the holiday season, and you can score some great discounts on them today.

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Only 12 people—all Americans—have put their boots on the Moon. Today, however, NASA has no plans to send humans back to our pockmarked satellite. Instead, its space pioneers will shoot straight to Mars (and wave to the Moon as they pass it by).


One of the first footprints on the Moon.

Other countries, though, would like a chance to leave some dusty footprints on the Moon. And although some think another Moon mission represents a step back, solid reasons exist (beyond footprints) to do a lunar sojourn or two before heading for the Red Planet.

In October, Russia announced it wants to build a base on the Moon.

They are sending a rover there in 2020 to check out the South Pole Aitken Basin, where water-ice caps the ground. This mission, called Luna 27, will hunt for resources and suss out the site as a potential home for the colony.

To build that colony, Russia has asked, “Hey, do any other nations want to team up?” After all, space is expensive, and space is also not a country—it’s a place where borders don’t exist (at least not yet)—so global collaboration breeds goodwill and makes a mission more likely to actually happen.

The European Space Agency (ESA) plans to take Russia up on their request, a decision that they’ll ratify in early 2016. They’ll contribute Pilot, an instrument to guide the lander to the ground using lasers; a drill that will whir into two meters of rock and ice; and the pocket-sized lab that Luna 27 will carry to analyze material the sampler scoops up.

And it seems likely ESA would team up with Russia after the recon mission to spool up that Moon colony.


Concept sketch of multi-dome, inflatable Moon base covered in 3D printed lunar regolith.

At the National Space Symposium in April, the agency’s chief, Johann-Dietrich Wörner said, “It seems to be appropriate to propose a permanent Moon station as the successor of ISS.” He proposed that, like the space station, the Moon station also be international, with countries contributing people, talent, and resources according to their abilities.

China has its own designs. In 2013, it launched Chang’e 3, complete with lander and orbiter, and plans to launch a lander called Chang’e 5 in 2017. It will bring back two kilograms of samples (a puppy’s mass of material).

The US hasn’t expressed desire to join Team Moon, and it likely won’t: With a limited space-exploration budget, and a stated goal of going to Mars, NASA doesn’t have resources left for other projects (in fact, it may not even have enough for Mars). And it is actually forbidden, by an old law, from dealing with China in space-based endeavors.

But aside from money matters, going to the Moon doesn’t mean not going to Mars.

Europe, Russia, and China all plan to visit the Red Planet’s canyons and dunes sometime in the future. But going to the Moon is faster—in terms of trip planning and the number of times the crew asks “Are we there yet?” before arrival—and, because of that, cheaper.

moon-or-mars-5Further, because the timescales and the budget numbers are both smaller, the missions are more likely to happen (maybe even on time). Also, going to the Moon is a stepping stone to Mars. Launches to Mars could actually take place from the Moon—a lower-energy feat relative to Earth launches due to the Moon’s lesser gravity—after the colony turns industrial (which is, admittedly, a ways off). And astronauts and engineers can learn how to build a long-term space settlement, which (turns out) no one has ever done before.

However, the more resources agencies invest in getting to the Moon (and staying there for long periods of time), the fewer they have left to allocate for a future trip to Mars, an expensive endeavor. And the general American attitude of “been there, done that” has something to it. We have been there. We may not have done all of that, but we could go try to do it somewhere else, farther away: on a new frontier.

That kind of novel, dreamy goal inspires people, and not without reason. We have the technological capability to figure out how to make a human Mars mission work.

So, perhaps all together, in a global collaboration of building blocks, brains, brawn, and bitcoins, humans could accomplish both of their lofty space-travel goals and, in the coming decades, live on three spheres in the solar system.

Image Credit: NASA/Dennis M. Davidson (banner); NASA; ESA/Foster + Partners (Moon base concept sketch)

The post Russia and Europe Want a Moon Colony—Why Is NASA So Focused on Mars? appeared first on Singularity HUB.

Phone booths are disappearing. Kids nowadays don’t even know what it is when they are looking at one. But this booth in Prairie Grove, Arkansas is one of the last remaining specimens of a passing era, and just has been placed on the National Register of Historic Places. When’s the last time you’ve used one of these relics?

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I bought my beloved television half a decade ago, a (then) impressively thin 32-inch Samsung for around $500 . Today, you can buy a 50-inch 4K TV for $500. The real question is: Should you buy a 4K TV at all?

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For a generation of CEOs, Clayton Christensen’s The Innovator’s Dilemma was a guiding light on how to survive industry disruptions. His book educated business executives on where competition would emerge from and how to respond to the threats. Of late, however, journalists and academics have questioned the accuracy of Christensen’s industry analyses and challenged his broad generalizations. His response, in a new Harvard Business Review article, is that his theories have been misunderstood and their basic tenets misapplied. He posits that his prescriptions have been a victim of their own successes.

Regardless of whether the criticisms are valid, Christensen’s ideas have had a positive impact on industry. Companies such as Procter & Gamble, GE, and Salesforce credit them with having helped them stay ahead. They provided an excellent way of thinking about innovation.

But Christensen’s theories are now outdated, and there is little to be gained by arguing about the accuracy of the case studies on which they were based.  The harm is in continuing to be guided by them — because they teach companies to look in the wrong places for competitive threats and encourage them to separate the innovative disruptors from the core businesses; to put them in new company divisions. We are now in an era in which technologies such as computing, networks, sensors, artificial intelligence, and robotics are advancing exponentially and converging, thereby allowing industries to encroach on and disrupt one another.

Christensen says that Uber and Tesla Motors aren’t genuinely disruptive, not fitting the tenets of his theory of disruptive innovation. In that, the competition comes from the lower end or an unserved part of a market and then migrates upward to the mainstream market. He says that Uber has gone in exactly the opposite direction by building a position in the mainstream market and then addressing historically overlooked segments. And Tesla Motors can’t be disruptive because it is tackling the high end of the car market.  “If disruption theory is correct, Tesla’s future holds either acquisition by a much larger incumbent or a years-long and hard-fought battle for market significance,” say Christensen and his co-authors in the paper.

Christensen’s disruption theory is not correct. The competition no longer comes from the lower end of a market; it comes from other, completely different, industries.  For the taxi industry, Uber came out of nowhere. At first Uber tried competing with high-end limousines. Then it launched UberX to offer cheap taxi service. Now it wants it all.  Through UberFresh, it is piloting same-day grocery delivery; through UberEats, it promises lunch in 10 minutes. Uber is challenging supermarkets,, and the catering industry — all at the same time. With UberHealth, it is planning to bring flu shots to people in need. When Uber finishes writing the software for its self-driving cars, it will create a genuine tsunami of disruption in every industry that depends upon transportation.

Tesla has already proven the superiority of its electric cars. Now it is changing their economics. With its Gigafactory, which is expected to come online in 2017, it will halve the cost of batteries and increase their range. These will keep getting better — and cheaper. Tesla is talking about releasing a $35,000 car in 2017. I won’t be surprised if it delivers a version in the early 2020s that travels more than 500 miles on a single charge and costs $25,000. And it plans to use the same battery technology, in Powerwall to provide affordable storage to solar homes so that they can be disconnected from the grid and be energy independent. This cross-industry focus will lead to economies of scale that will disrupt both the transportation and energy industries. Tesla is more likely to acquire General Motors, Ford, and Volkswagen than to have to battle them.

Apple, which has already disrupted the computing and music industries, now has its eye on health care and finance. The Apple watch functions as a medical device; its artificial intelligence will monitor us 24×7 and begin to take the role of our personal physicians. Apple’s ResearchKit has already startedgathering clinical-trial data and will upend the pharmaceutical industry by keeping track of the effectiveness and side effects of the medications we take. ApplePay, Apple’s first entrant into the finance industry, will start doing the job of credit-card processors and will disrupt the finance industry over the next decade as it becomes a platform on which we transact commerce.

Google, Facebook, SpaceX, and Oneweb are in a race to provide Wi-Fi Internet access everywhere through drones, microsatellites, and balloons.  At first, they will provide their services through the telecom companies; then they will eat their lunch. The motivation of the technology industry is, after all, to have everyone online all the time. Their business models are to monetize data rather than to charge cell, data, or access fees. They will also end up disrupting the cable industry, entertainment, and every industry that deals with information.

Disruption is no longer a narrow field that can be handled by a new division or department of a company. It is happening wherever technology can be applied. Companies need all hands on board — with all divisions working together to find ways to reinvent themselves and defend themselves from the onslaught of new competition. This is a company-wide effort which requires bold new thinking.

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Higher education, in general, fails students in three ways.

  1. It does not prepare students to succeed in life after college.
  2. The cost is significant and students often go into debt or work to put themselves through school (often, they do both).
  3. Many students drop out or don’t attend classes.

This isn’t news.

Today, we almost take these challenges as immutable facts, but they don’t have to be. We can shift the tide by changing how and what we teach, and by making the most of technologies that are already here. My organization, Minerva, is one of the few working to address these problems — here are a few solutions we hope will make higher education more effective in the 21st century.

Preparing Students for Life After College

The standard curriculum has three parts: General education, a major, and electives. The problem is, as they are typically taught, none of these is very useful for students after graduation.

General education is supposed to prepare students for life after college, but often it consists of a set of breadth requirements that are neither designed with any particular goal in mind nor are part of a coherent program. The major is typically of no use to students after graduation. (How many economics majors become economists? How many sociology majors become sociologists?) And electives are typically just whatever happens to interest the faculty, with little thought about what is useful for students.

To tackle these problems, we’ve designed our entire curriculum around the goal of imparting “practical knowledge”— knowledge students can use to achieve their goals.

Practical knowledge is broad and generative. Kurt Lewin famously said, “There is nothing as practical as a good theory.” Practical knowledge is not vocational training nor is it focused on pre-professional instruction. Practical knowledge should give students the intellectual foundations to succeed at jobs that don’t even exist yet.

We have intentionally created a general education program during the first year that provides students with a set of cognitive tools they can use in varied situations. After the first year, we’ve designed a set of majors and concentrations that allow students to expand on this knowledge and apply it in more specific, “real-world” contexts. As students progress through the curriculum, they increasingly personalize it to help them achieve their goals.

We want our students to be able to become leaders and innovators, and to adapt to a changing, increasingly global world. Given these goals, we could identify skills and attributes that are key to their success in the future.

Residence Hall_FC

To ensure that what we teach translates to the real world, we devised the capstone experience.

Kicking off in the first semester of junior year, the capstone challenges students to plan a novel solution to an important problem. Then, over the following three semesters, students practice all they have learned from their Minerva experience by carrying out an original capstone project in their chosen field (or fields) in preparation for the students’ transition to the real world.

In addition, in their senior year, each student works with two other students and a professor to design a seminar on a topic of their choosing—and then they take the seminar. For most majors, students take two such seminars. No other university program allows students to personalize their instruction in this way.

Lastly, Minerva students change locations every semester after their first year in San Francisco.

They live and study in Berlin, Buenos Aires, Seoul, Bangalore, Istanbul, and London. We use each city as a campus, taking advantage of local resources and integrating them into the curriculum. This approach broadens the students’ perspectives and extends their learning environment into a wide range of diverse urban contexts.

Say No to In-Class Lectures: Making Learning Active

Traditionally, students read assigned materials and then attend class to hear their professor give a lecture. They take notes, go home, do an assignment, and repeat. This model is backward — that is, students should not be wasting time in the classroom being lectured at by the professor.

In a standard “flipped classroom,” homework is done in class — where the teacher and other students are available as resources — and lectures are provided before class.

This is a good start. But we’ve gone further.

At Minerva, minimal information transmission takes place in class. In our “radical flipped classroom,” we move both the homework, readings, and lectures to before class and reserve class time for active learning. Students use information acquired through lectures and homework in critical thinking, creative thinking, effective communication, and effective interaction. They take part in group problem solving, debate, role-playing exercises and other activities that engage them.

This is challenging—but in a good way.

Students often prefer a traditional lecture format to active learning because lectures are easy: The student simply writes down what the professor says, memorizes it, and then does well on a test. Moreover, there’s the illusion of learning: The more notes, the more learned. Right? No. The vast majority of what was “learned” is soon forgotten. Active learning solidifies newly acquired knowledge by requiring students actually to use it after they’ve learned it.

Active learning does have an apparent drawback: Less material can be covered than in a traditional lecture format. But this drawback is more apparent than real. If retention is tested three months later, students who took part in active learning typically retain many times as much as students who received the material in just a lecture. Moreover, because active learning focuses on using information, it is an ideal fit to Minerva’s emphasis on practical knowledge.

Minerva’s active learning approach is complemented by programs that test and deepen students’ learning through practical application with community partners.

Whether working with the mayor’s office to reimagine the public use of San Francisco’s Market Street or partnering with an entrepreneurial incubator to evaluate submissions for funding, students are applying the what they’ve learned as part of their curriculum.

Technology to Facilitate Learning, Measure Progress and Broaden Experience

All classes at Minerva are taught using a cloud-based system that was developed solely to conduct educational seminars, the Active Learning Forum (ALF).

We use ALF for two main reasons. First, it allows us to teach more effectively and helps students to learn more effectively. In particular, our use of active learning allows us to apply the science of learning systematically. For example, we know that rapid feedback is invaluable; we take advantage of this by recording all classes, which allows faculty to score students and give them feedback soon after class.

Second, ALF allows students to take classes and faculty to teach classes from anywhere in the world. This means that we can have students in the same seminar who are living in different cities and can bring their experiences into class for comparison/contrast exercises. It also means that we can recruit first-rate faculty who can teach from all over the world.


Lowering the Cost and Increasing Student Engagement

Finally, it’s worth taking a step back and considering Minerva in a broader context. As noted at the outset, higher education in general fails students in three ways: First, it does not prepare students to succeed in life after college. Everything we do at Minerva is focused on this goal.

Second, our peer institutions typically charge about four times what we do for tuition.

Because we don’t own buildings, have sports teams (or even a climbing wall!), and so on, we have far fewer expenses and can actually provide a much more intimate, substantially higher quality educational experience at a fraction of the cost.

And, finally, many students drop out, either never completing college or not attending classes (and instead just showing up for the test). We hope to motivate students to continue their journey toward mastery by restricting our classes to small, intimate seminars, by requiring engagement and participation from our students, by raising expectations as opposed to lowering them, and by having students live and travel together all over the world.

Combining rigorous academics, small seminars, and four years of immersive global study, we have built Minerva for the 21st century. We have not only changed what students learn, but how they learn. However, the only measure of our success will be the success of our students, not simply doing well in school but also doing well in life after graduation — professionally and personally.

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Image Credit:; Minerva

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Water bears, known to scientists as tardigrades, are famously adorable microscopic creatures who can survive anything: freezing, total dehydration, radiation bombardment, and even the vacuum of deep space. Now scientists have sequenced a tardigrade genome, and are very surprised by the results.

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