Researchers read centuries-old sealed letter without ever opening it

The key? A computational flattening algorithm.

Credit: David Nitschke on Unsplash

An international team of scholars has read an unopened letter from early modern Europe — without breaking its seal or damaging it in any way — using an automated computational flattening algorithm.

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How sci-fi helps humanity avoid species-level mistakes

Technology of the future is shaped by the questions we ask and the ethical decisions we make today.

  • Robots (from the Czech word for laborer) began appearing in science fiction in the early 1900s as metaphors for real world ideas and issues surrounding class struggles, labor, and intelligence. Author Ken MacLeod says that the idea that robots would one day rebel was baked into the narrative from the start. As technologies have advanced, so too have our fears.
  • "Science fiction can help us to look at the social consequences, to understand the technologies that are beginning to change our lives," says MacLeod. He argues that while robots in science fiction are a reflection of humanity, they have little to do with our actual machines and are "very little help at all in understanding what the real problems and the real opportunities actually are."
  • AI has made the threat of "autonomous killer robots" much more of a possibility today than when Asimov wrote his three laws, but it's the decisions we make now that will determine the future. "None of these developments are inevitable," says MacLeod. "They're all the consequences of human actions, and we can always step back and say, 'Do we really want to do this?'"

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‘Designer baby’ book trilogy explores the moral dilemmas humans may soon create

How would the ability to genetically customize children change society? Sci-fi author Eugene Clark explores the future on our horizon in Volume I of the "Genetic Pressure" series.

  • A new sci-fi book series called "Genetic Pressure" explores the scientific and moral implications of a world with a burgeoning designer baby industry.
  • It's currently illegal to implant genetically edited human embryos in most nations, but designer babies may someday become widespread.
  • While gene-editing technology could help humans eliminate genetic diseases, some in the scientific community fear it may also usher in a new era of eugenics.
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The 10 best science and technology books of 2020

Perspective twisting books on biology, social science, medical science, cosmology, and tech.

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  • The best science books push us to think, feel, and behave differently.
  • This list includes new releases by authors Merlin Sheldrake, Isabel Wilkerson, James Nestor, David Attenborough, and others.
  • Besides making us more knowledgeable, these books inspire curiosity, passion, and empathy for the universe in and around us.
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13 books everyone should read and why—as voted by you

Add these great titles to your wish list or secure copies for yourself.

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  • We asked BigThink's readers and staff for their recommendations on books everyone should read.
  • A collection of fiction and non-fiction works from around the world spanning millennia, these books will expand your horizons.
  • Many of these books are long out of copyright, and can be read for free.
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