9/21/18 – Three recent hurricanes—Harvey, Lane, and now Florence—set rainfall records, and research is suggesting that hurricanes are slowing down, taking in more water, and growing bigger, likely because of climate change. To aid in preparing the United States for a stormier future, analysts have proposed in Issues a set of actions that governments, communities, businesses, and researchers should take to better understand and adapt to global warming and its consequences.
9/20/18 – A group of experts meeting under the auspices of the United Nations recently examined how to control the use of lethal autonomous weapons, but reached no final conclusions. In Issues, an analyst who looked at artificial intelligence (AI) more broadly has proposed that at a minimum, the weapons must be subject to oversight by fast-acting AI systems—“AI Guardians”—that can ensure their safe and ethical operation. Similarly, fitting autonomous weapons with an “ethical governor” is explored here.
9/19/18 – A growing number of states and counties are offering prisoners addicted to opioids more medical options to help them quit, improving their chances of recovery and reducing their likelihood of return. Rhode Island shows what might be achieved. In Issues, analysts have previously cited the importance of treating incarcerated addicts, as part of broader efforts to improve overall health care within correctional systems and ultimately benefit inmates’ home communities.
8/28/18 – “Our commercial partners are challenging us to be more agile, think differently, buy smarter and develop more efficiently,” NASA’s administrator told the Washington Post, and many observers hope the agency’s evolution will spark the kind of innovation necessary to make spaceflight more routine. Seeing this trend developing, an analyst recently explained in Issues how more private companies, as well as more countries, were expanding their activities in space, and how this would require the US government to adapt its regulatory thinking to capitalize on increased collaboration.
8/27/18 – As the United States and Mexico moved closer to adopting final revisions to the North American Free Trade Agreement, President Trump suggested he was open to dumping Canada from the trilateral pact, according to a New York Times report. But this might miss a rich opportunity. In Issues a while back, a policy analyst who examined the benefits derived from NAFTA proposed that the three nations might gain even more by working together as an economic alliance to engage the global community on trade issues.
8/24/18 – Facebook has removed hundreds of accounts linked to Russia and Iran for malicious political behavior ahead of the upcoming US midterm elections. Microsoft has taken down six Russia-linked websites targeting the US Senate and several Washington think tanks that promote democracy or investigate Russian corruption. New evidence shows that prior to the US presidential election in 2016, Russian internet trolls hurled insults at both advocates and critics of vaccines solely to raise the national level of hostility. What’s going on? In Issues, a scholar recently examined how advanced information technologies are adding a new dimension to regional and global conflict, particularly the use of “weaponized narratives” to undermine an adversary’s institutions, identity, and civilization.
8/23/18 – Fewer than half of people in the United States now believe that self-driving cars will make roadways safer—a drop from a clear majority only two years ago, seemingly influenced by recent high-profile accidents involving autonomous vehicles, says a new study by Cox Automotive. If companies ignore such worries and push this technology too fast, the public might come to “fixate on any technological failures to the detriment of the long-term viability of this movement to address unsafe driving,” an analyst cautions in Issues, adding that a “slow-but-sure strategy to commercialization makes the most sense for now.”
8/21/18 – This summer’s scorching heat speaks to a clear climate trend, as 17 of the 18 warmest years on record have occurred since 2001, yet the New York Times says the world remains largely unprepared for life at higher temperatures. Issues recently offered a blueprint for action, with a pair of forward-thinking analysts detailing specific steps—led by governments, but also involving businesses, universities, and communities—to prepare for and adapt to global warming. The authors also discussed their ideas at the launch event for the Summer Issues in Washington, DC.
8/13/14 – Asian American women face a double bind in the workplace as they encounter negative stereotyping for both their ethnicity and gender, says an account from the Better Life Lab. In an early examination in Issues, two scholars presented national data showing this to be especially true for leadership positions in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics—the STEM fields—in industry and academia, adding that this “merits greater attention, more targeted programmatic efforts, and inclusion in the national discussion of the STEM workforce.”
8/11/18 – China is rapidly emerging as a technological powerhouse, at least in part because of its use of illicit political and business practices, the president of MIT says, calling for the United States to develop an aggressive and forward-looking action plan. In Issues, a longtime technology and policy hand recently proposed just such a strategy by which the United States can offset China’s unfair practices and, most importantly, promote and extend US leadership in science and innovation.
8/2/18 – The United States is expected to see ever more openings for middle-skill jobs—positions that require more than a high school diploma but typically not a bachelor’s degree—and a technology-and-policy group says new ways are needed to help workers gain skills and associated credentials that will open employment doors. In a deeper look, Issues recently explored the importance of these jobs; the skills they require, particularly in health care; and how expanded access to better data on labor markets can aid both workers and policy-makers looking for productive options.
7/27/18 – Gwyneth Paltrow, the actor turned head of a vast lifestyle-and-wellness enterprise called Goop, personifies the power of celebrities to influence everyday people’s health, often in ways that turn science on its head, says a long-form read in the New York Times Magazine. But rather than ignore potentially harmful pseudoscientific claims, two scientists who study such matters recently noted in Issues that “the rise in celebrity culture will doubtless create multiple and regular opportunities for scientists and clinicians to spread evidence-based and credible scientific ideas as part of an ongoing public discussion of science—if the scientific community is prepared and willing to engage.”
7/26/18 – The legal system increasingly uses “risk assessment” algorithms in making decisions about bail, sentencing, and parole, but an official at a nonprofit legal association says these tools “are too rapidly acquiring an exalted place in human decision-making.” An independent research consultant earlier argued this case in Issues, and she proposed ways to improve their use, including making the nuts and bolts of the algorithms more transparent, subjecting them to independent audit, and using them only if they demonstrably serve to reduce pretrial incarcerations.
7/26/18 – Waymo, a company fast-forwarding the development of self-driving vehicles, just launched a trial program in the Phoenix area to team up with Walmart and four other firms to transport people between their homes and nearby stores, restaurants, and other retail destinations. As autonomous vehicles move into everyday life, some observers are calling for tighter government regulations. But a technology analyst recently said in Issues that any new rules should be flexible enough to encourage innovation while ensuring that the vehicles are safe and broadly accessible across society.
7/24/18 – Ever since the water in Flint, Michigan, was found in 2014 to be contaminated with lead, a range of people have cited various statistics to show that children’s health might have been harmed. But two scientists now say that a comprehensive review of the data has “raised questions about how risks and statistics have been communicated,” adding that “the furor over this issue seems way out of proportion to the actual dangers.” From a broader perspective, a book titled Getting Risk Right: Understanding the Science of Elusive Health Risks, reviewed in Issues, explores the challenges of understanding and prioritizing risk and examines how the tools of risk assessment can help to protect public health without raising undue worries.
7/22/18 – At an international conference on artificial intelligence (AI), numerous researchers signed a pledge to “neither participate in nor support the development, manufacture, trade, or use of lethal autonomous weapons.” This accords with a recent examination in Issues of when and how AI writ large should be regulated, which found reason for limiting “the development of autonomous weapons that employ AI to decide when to fire, with how much force to apply, and on what targets,” but added that this would best be done as part of a broader public discussion of “the policy measures and cultural changes that will be needed to negotiate the coming transformation into an AI-rich world.”
7/21/18 – A leading bioethics advisory group in the United Kingdom says in a new report described here that genetically modifying human embryos, sperm, or eggs to influence the characteristics of a future person—a process known as heritable genome editing—could be morally permissible if it would provide meaningful benefit to the individual and would not be expected to increase discrimination or division in society. On a larger stage, an international summit recently examined the potential and challenges of human gene modification, and Issues summarized some of the presentations exploring the social, legal, ethical, and policy questions that are essential to understanding how to use or limit this new technology.
7/20/18 – With the National Flood Insurance Program set to expire on July 31, Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA) is fighting hard to prevent any reforms. Meanwhile, a group of state insurance commissioners has provided an update on what other members of Congress are doing. For help in deciding what to do, legislators might look to Issues, where a decision-sciences expert proposed that the program should base premiums on up-to-date assessments of the degree of flood hazard that homeowners face, and that it should incorporate incentives such as means-tested vouchers or low-interest loans to encourage homeowners of all income levels to undertake cost-effective protective measures.
7/15/18 – China joined the world’s top 20 most innovative economies and is aiming to move higher, while the United States fell out of the top 5, according to the recently released Global Innovation Index 2018, cosponsored by the United Nations. Although measuring an economy’s innovativeness is inherently difficult, and many experts would challenge the rankings in this study, no one doubts that China’s innovative capacity is on the rise. The United States should not take its strength relative to China for granted, a leading scholar and former government adviser says in Issues, and he proposed actions to both boost US innovation capability and respond to China’s technological ambitions.
7/14/18 – California has become something of a test case for mandatory vaccination laws, as many parents in some communities are obtaining medical exemptions for their children. Convincing such parents to have their kids vaccinated will require more than pointing to scientific evidence that vaccines are safe and effective, a philosopher and data analyst said recently said in Issues, because vaccines have become a proxy for a much deeper controversy about the nature of risk and the role of experts, and more work is needed to learn how to address the concerns of both medical experts and vaccine-hesitant parents.
7/11/18 – A nonprofit group in Israel is leading a mission to softly land a spacecraft on the moon early next year, thereby becoming the first nongovernmental enterprise to do so. The group proposes to do this using an innovative two-months-long launch process that will be far cheaper than conventional methods. The effort illustrates in spades how space activities are becoming increasingly diverse, as an analyst recently explained in Issues, adding that the shift is requiring the United States to adjust its space programs and policies accordingly.
7/9/18 – A new US jobs report declared that companies are finding it difficult to find qualified workers to fill open positions. But in Issues, a longtime workforce analyst recently looked behind the curtain, arguing that employers’ complaints about skill shortages mask a deeper struggle to extend their leverage in the labor market, and that “What everyone needs are opportunities to learn and to advance in accord with their wishes and motivations without sacrificing already meager paychecks.”
7/9/18 – Seven states recently increased their fuel tax that funds highway construction and maintenance projects, while some California politicians are pushing to repeal a recent hike in the tax. But in Issues, an energy analyst has proposed a totally different route, charging motorists by the miles they travel, arguing that the new system would be better suited to the changing nature of automobiles and driving habits.
6/29/18 – Rising sea levels driven primarily by climate change put more than 300,000 homes in the contiguous United States at risk of chronic flooding within the next 30 years, the lifespan of a typical mortgage, according to a new study and an interactive map tool for viewing threat levels of particular communities. Some of the actions proposed to mitigate the risks align with recommendations recently advanced by a decision-sciences expert in Issues for making the soon-to-be-reauthorized National Flood Insurance Program more cost-effective, more equitable, and more appealing to property owners.
6/ 28/18 – Potent new diseases may be only an airplane-ride from becoming a pandemic, but a deep read in the Atlantic says the world is not prepared. In addition to posing immense medical needs, the next pandemic will raise unprecedented communications challenges in providing people with accurate and credible information—to offset an almost-certain deluge of erroneous blasts via social media—and in Issues a technology innovator has called for developing a volunteer corps of scientists and communicators to help handle the job.
6/25/18 – Roaming the waters off California, a 51-foot-long “unmanned undersea vehicle”—essentially a submarine that can operate for months at a time with little or no contact with human operators—is undergoing tests ahead of possible deployment by the US Navy. And it won’t be alone. Various types of drone seagoing vehicles are being groomed for both underwater and surface applications, an analyst said in Issues, though a variety of technical and policy questions must be resolved.
6/18/18 – Amid concerns about the impact of robots on the workplace, an economic analyst described in Issues his study of first principles: what skills do robots have or may soon acquire, and what jobs can robots with those skills perform. The conclusion: robots and advanced information technologies can likely handle 80% of current jobs. Emerging ideas on how society can respond range from big, such as a government-funded universal basic income, to small, such as employer-funded lifelong learning accounts that enable workers to take short paid leaves to gain new skills.
6/17/18 – The University of New Hampshire has become the first flagship state school in the United States to adopt an admissions test that may make it easier for students from China to enroll, bringing along the more than $45,000 they will pay for tuition and housing each year. But recruiting more higher-paying foreign students, along with a number of other actions that schools are taking to offset decreasing state aid, is shortsighted, two academic scholars say in Issues, and they propose alternative measures that would give universities some breathing room.
6/12/18 – The technology giant Google will not develop artificial intelligence (AI) for use in weapons or other applications “that cause or are likely to cause overall harm,” its chief executive has announced in setting forth a set of principles to guide the company’s work in the field. The move aligns with a recent exploration by two scholars in Issues of whether and how AI should be regulated. They suggested that banning “fully autonomous weapons that operate entirely independent of human input” makes sense, while also calling for an interlocking oversight system for making decisions about “many if not all so-called smart technologies.”
6/10/18 – More countries and private companies are pursuing activities in space, an analyst recently noted in Issues. But in actions that would seemingly push even this expanded envelope, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration is considering “a range of options” to privatize the International Space Station, including having a global team of corporations take over operations and run it as a commercial space lab, or even splitting it into components, some of which could be “de-orbited,” to make private management easier.