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    Get used to disappointment: Why technology often doesn’t meet the hype / ArsTechnica · Saturday, 1 April - 13:30 · 1 minute

Image of a supersonic jet airliner.

Enlarge / Once the future of travel, now a museum piece. (credit: Didier Messens )

Vaclav Smil reminds us that despite the onslaught of popular techno-pundits claiming otherwise, immense and rapid progress in one realm does not mean immense and rapid progress in all realms.

Let’s just get this out of the way at the start: Smil is Bill Gates’ favorite author. He’s written 40 books, all of them about some combination of energy, China, or the combination of food, agriculture, and ecology. His newest book, Invention and Innovation: A Brief History of Hype and Failure , is somewhat of a departure, although it does touch on all of these. Primarily, it is a tale of thwarted promise.

Smil is very intentional about the types of flops he highlights. He is not interested in embarrassing design failures (the Titanic, Betamax, Google Glass) or undesirable side effects of inventions everyone still uses despite them (prescription drugs, cars, plastic). Rather, he focuses on the categories chosen to demonstrate the limits of innovation. Although astoundingly rapid progress has been made in the fields of electronics and computing over the past 50 or so years, it does not follow that we are thus in some unprecedented golden age of disruptive, transformative growth in every field.

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    Are we ethically ready to set up shop in space? / ArsTechnica · Saturday, 11 March - 12:23

Promotional image from 2001: A Space Odyssey

Enlarge / Orbiting space station from 2001: A Space Odyssey . (credit: Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty Images )

Off-Earth will amaze you: On nearly every page, it will have your jaw dropping in response to mind-blowing revelations and your head nodding vigorously in sudden recognition of some of your own half-realized thoughts (assuming you think about things like settling space). It will also have your head shaking sadly in resignation at the many immense challenges author Erika Nesvold describes.

But the amazement will win out. Off-Earth: Ethical Questions and Quandaries for Living in Outer Space is really, really good.

The shortcomings of a STEM education

Nesvold is an astrophysicist. She worked at NASA; she can easily run the equations to calculate how much fuel we need to get people, life support, and mining equipment to Mars.

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