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Thomas Hornigold

Thomas Hornigold

Thomas Hornigold is a physics student at the University of Oxford. When he's not geeking out about the Universe, he hosts a podcast, Physical Attraction, which explains physics - one chat-up line at a time.

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From This Author


Graphene (With a Twist) Is Helping Scientists Understand Superconductors

Graphene is a highly unconventional substance. After all, how many other Nobel-Prize-winning breakthroughs are made by scientists messing around on a Friday night with some sticky tape? Since then, graphene—and a whole family of...

SpaceX’s Starlink Launch and the Race for Global Internet Coverage

I saw two shooting stars last night I wished on them, but they were only satellites it’s wrong to wish on space hardware. – Billy Bragg There’s a mini-constellation of new satellites in the sky. SpaceX has launched...

Less Like Us: An Alternate Theory of Artificial General Intelligence

The question of whether an artificial general intelligence will be developed in the future—and, if so, when it might arrive—is controversial. One (very uncertain) estimate suggests 2070 might be the earliest we could expect...

How Realistic Are the Global Climate Change Targets? New Research Weighs In

In 1896, Swedish scientist Svante Arrhenius pointed out that “the development of human industry” could introduce carbon dioxide to the atmosphere, trapping infrared radiation and warming the climate. It took until 2015, when CO2 concentration...

Dr. Alexa Will See You Now: Can We Trust Digital Assistants With Our Health Data?

It’s hard to imagine a field where data is more valuable than in healthcare. Monitoring and interpreting crucial health indices can make the difference between an early diagnosis and a late one—and that, in...

Inflatable Robot Astronauts and How to Control Them

The typical cultural image of a robot—as a steel, chrome, humanoid bucket of bolts—is often far from the reality of cutting-edge robotics research. There are difficulties, both social and technological, in realizing the image...

OpenAI’s Eerily Realistic New Text Generator Writes Like a Human

Trying to understand how new technologies will shape our lives is an exercise in managing hype. When technologists say their new invention has the potential to change the world, you’d hardly expect them to...

Why Should We Listen to Scientists?

There’s a game young children like to play when they’re just beginning to learn how to interact with the world, talk to others, and indulge their natural curiosity: it’s called the “Why?” game. Take...

Sensors and Machine Learning Are Giving Robots a Sixth Sense

According to some scientists, humans really do have a sixth sense. There’s nothing supernatural about it: the sense of proprioception tells you about the relative positions of your limbs and the rest of your...

How New 2D Materials Convert Wi-Fi Signals to Electricity

Our eyes are only attuned to a narrow band of possible wavelengths for electromagnetic radiation, between around 390-700 nanometers. If you could see the world in different wavelengths, you’d be aware that, in a...

Can AI Tell the Difference Between a Polar Bear and a Can Opener?

Scarcely a day goes by without another headline about neural networks: some new task that deep learning algorithms can excel at, approaching or even surpassing human competence. As the application of this approach to...

Are We Ready for a Sky Full of Drones? Recent Airport Attacks Say No

With just a week to go before Christmas, he might have been hoping for a quick getaway at the end of a long shift. That was when the airport security officer first noticed the...

Gene Drives Survived a Proposed UN Ban in 2018—What’s Next?

In September 2018, a lab-based study published in Nature Biotechnology confirmed what many had long believed possible. The experiment involved cages of a few hundred mosquitoes, free to fly around and reproduce—but with a...

Life-or-Death Algorithms: Avoiding the Black Box of AI in Medicine

When it comes to applications for machine learning, few can be more widely hyped than medicine. This is hardly surprising: it’s a huge industry that generates a phenomenal amount of data and revenue, where...

Are We Made of Memories? A Researcher’s Quest to Record His Life

How well do you remember what happened last week? Two weeks ago? Five weeks from last Tuesday? Unless you are meticulous in recording the events of your life, or something notable happened on a...

The Promise—and Complications—of Domestic Robots

Every year, for just a few days in a major city, a small team of roboticists get to live the dream: ordering around their own personal robot butlers. In carefully-constructed replicas of a restaurant...

Follow the Data? Investigative Journalism in the Age of Algorithms

You probably have a picture of a typical investigative journalist in your head. Dogged, persistent, he digs through paper trails by day and talks to secret sources in abandoned parking lots by night. After...

Building a Moral Machine: Who Decides the Ethics of Self-Driving Cars?

You’re driving along the highway when, suddenly, a person darts out across the busy road. There’s speeding traffic all around you, and you have a split second to make the decision: do you swerve...

The First Novel Written by AI Is Here—and It’s as Weird as You’d Expect It to Be

Last year, a novelist went on a road trip across the USA. The trip was an attempt to emulate Jack Kerouac—to go out on the road and find something essential to write about in the...

What If Your Data Was Valued Like Currency? At This Cafe, It Is

At the Shiru Café close to Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, students can get a cup of coffee without spending a dime. The currency here is information. Students can get free coffee if they...

The World’s First Hydrogen-Powered Commuter Train Is Now in Service

The advocates of hydrogen as the solution to replacing fossil fuels, particularly in transportation, have some compelling arguments. The fuel can be made with entirely renewable electricity, the internal combustion engine need not be...

This Robotic Skin Makes Inanimate Objects Move

In Goethe’s poem “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice,” made world-famous by its adaptation in Disney’s Fantasia, a lazy apprentice, left to fetch water, uses magic to bewitch a broom into performing his chores for him. Now,...

MIT’s New Robot Taught Itself to Pick Things Up the Way People Do

Back in 2016, somewhere in a Google-owned warehouse, more than a dozen robotic arms sat for hours quietly grasping objects of various shapes and sizes. For hours on end, they taught themselves how to...

Graphene and Beyond: The Astonishing Properties and Promise of 2D Materials

Since graphene was first isolated in 2004, a Nobel Prize-winning feat that sparked a whole new exciting field of materials science research, 2D materials have had all kinds of suggested applications. Now, at the...

Is the Rise of AI on Wall Street for Better or Worse?

May 6, 2010, is a date that should live in infamy. On that day, the US stock market suffered a trillion-dollar collapse. Do you remember it? In just 15 minutes from 2:45 pm, the Dow...

How Do You Win An Argument? IBM’s New AI Has a Formula

Anyone who’s spent even a little time on the internet lately may feel like there’s a little too much “debate”—much of which descends into ad hominem insults. At the same time, there’s increasing concern around...

Are Electric Planes the Future of Aviation?

Last week saw a rather unusual flight plan. Norway’s Transport Minister and the CEO of its major airport operator, Avinor, flew a quick lap around Oslo’s airport in a tiny two-person plane. Unremarkable—except that...

Why We Need to Fine-Tune Our Definition of Artificial Intelligence

Sophia's uncanny-valley face, made of Hanson Robotics’ patented Frubber, is rapidly becoming an iconic image in the field of artificial intelligence. She has been interviewed on shows like 60 Minutes, made a Saudi citizen,...

Can Hawaii Go Carbon Neutral by 2045?

If you’ve done any research into climate change, you’re almost certainly familiar with the Keeling Curve. This sawtoothed upward curve tracks the inexorable increase in carbon dioxide in Earth’s atmosphere, and the rate of...

How Cyanobacteria Could Help Save the Planet

It’s very easy to forget that complex life on Earth almost missed the boat entirely. As the Sun’s luminosity gradually increases, the oceans will boil away, and the planet will no longer be in...

How Will Artificial Intelligence Affect the Risk of Nuclear War?

As technology has progressed, humans have become ever more powerful. With this power comes great opportunity and great risk. Nowhere is this clearer than in the potential of artificial intelligence. But a new report...

Google’s Duplex Raises the Question: Should Robots Sound Robotic?

By now, you’ve probably seen Google’s new Duplex software, which promises to call people on your behalf to book appointments for haircuts and the like. As yet, it only exists in demo form, but...

Why the Discovery of Room-Temperature Superconductors Would Unleash Amazing Technologies

Superconductors are among the most bizarre and exciting materials yet discovered. Counterintuitive quantum-mechanical effects mean that, below a critical temperature, they have zero electrical resistance. This property alone is more than enough to spark...

This New Startup Will Use CRISPR as a Search Engine to Hunt Down Diseases

By now, you’ve heard of CRISPR—the bacterial self-defense mechanism that can be used to modify the genome. From “biohackers” building the hype by injecting themselves with CRISPR—and later regretting it—to the more measured, successful...

Stuff 3.0: The Era of Programmable Matter

It’s the end of a long day in your apartment in the early 2040s. You decide your work is done for the day, stand up from your desk, and yawn. “Time for a film!”...

How Fukushima Changed Japanese Robotics and Woke Up the Industry

In March 2011, Japan was hit by a catastrophic earthquake that triggered a terrible tsunami. Thousands were killed and billions of dollars of damage was done in one of the worst disasters of modern...

Tech Optimists See a Golden Future—Let’s Talk About How We’ll Get There

Technology evangelists dream about a future where we’re all liberated from the more mundane aspects of our jobs by artificial intelligence. Other futurists go further, imagining AI will enable us to become superhuman, enhancing...

Can We Make a Musical Turing Test?

As artificial intelligence advances, we’re encountering the same old questions. How much of what we consider to be fundamentally human can be reduced to an algorithm? Can we create something sufficiently advanced that people...

This Planned Solar Farm in Saudi Arabia Would Be 100 Times Bigger Than Any in the World

Right now it only exists on paper, in the form of a memorandum of understanding. But if constructed, the newly-announced solar photovoltaic project in Saudi Arabia would break an astonishing array of records. It’s...

New MIT Startup Targets Working Fusion Reactor in 15 Years. Can It Be Done?

The joke is that nuclear fusion is 20 years away, and always will be. This joke, now a cliché, arose from optimistic scientists suggesting in the 1950s (and then in most subsequent decades) that...

What If the AI Revolution Is Neither Utopia nor Apocalypse, but Something in Between?

Why does everyone assume that the AI revolution will either lead to a fiery apocalypse or a glorious utopia, and not something in between? Of course, part of this is down to the fact that...

New Malicious AI Report Outlines Biggest Threats of the Next 5 Years

Everyone’s talking about deep fakes: audio-visual imitations of people, generated by increasingly powerful neural networks, that will soon be indistinguishable from the real thing. Politicians are regularly laid low by scandals that arise from...

Artificial Photosynthesis Is Solar Energy’s Forgotten Cousin—and It’s Making a Comeback

In an article in Science published in 1912, Professor Giacomo Ciamician noted that “Coal… offers solar energy to humanity in its most concentrated form… but coal is not inexhaustible. Is fossil solar energy the...

What Roboticists Are Learning From Early Generations of Lifelike Humanoid Robots

You might not have heard of Hanson Robotics, but if you’re reading this, you’ve probably seen their work. They were the company behind Sophia, the lifelike humanoid avatar that’s made dozens of high-profile media...

The Clock’s Ticking on Climate Change, and It’s Time to Get Real About Tackling It

If you’re an insomniac, this situation will probably be familiar to you. It’s the night before a big exam or job interview. You go to bed with plenty of time to spare, but sleep...

Let’s Talk About Bitcoin’s Insane Energy Consumption

Cryptocurrency fever is heating up. Even the less-than-legitimate websites that hawk opportunities to buy the latest coin are struggling to keep up with its price. Whatever societal or technological value blockchain technology may have...

The Love Oracle: Can AI Help You Succeed at Dating?

Interacting with modern-day Alexa, Siri, and other chatterbots can be fun, but as personal assistants, these chatterbots can seem a little impersonal. What if, instead of asking them to turn the lights off, you...

How Fast Is AI Progressing? Stanford’s New Report Card for Artificial Intelligence

When? This is probably the question that futurists, AI experts, and even people with a keen interest in technology dread the most. It has proved famously difficult to predict when new developments in AI...

Are Solar Roads the Highway of the Future, or a Road to Nowhere?

By some back-of-the-envelope estimates, around 0.2–0.5 percent of the world’s land surface is covered in roads. This proportion is projected to increase by 60 percent by 2050. It’s a staggering fraction of territory for...

New Research Suggests Immunity to CRISPR Gene Editing Poses a Challenge

CRISPR-Cas9 is the talk of the town in biotechnology. There is a huge amount of public interest in the possibilities provided by this new genome editing technology, and many are hoping CRISPR could eventually...

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