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Coming to you live from space radio.

Deep space radio signals might be trying to tell us something. IBM and the SETI Institute are working together to analyze six terabytes of these complex signals to listen for patterns of life. Researchers are using IBM Analytics on Apache Spark to sift through signals gathered by the Allen Telescope Array, and cognitive machine learning to determine which signals are from humans, and which might be from aliens. Maybe they’ll ask us to call-in.

Learn more about listening for aliens →


Cassini prepares for final orbital “Grand Finale” at Saturn.

Erik Wernquist, the same filmmaker who created 2014’s “Wanderers” and a stunning New Horizons promotional film in 2015, has created a new video highlighting NASA’s Cassini mission’s final days at Saturn.

The Cassini spacecraft will begin its final series of orbits to cap a 13-year groundbreaking science mission known as the Grand Finale. For the first time ever in Cassini’s time at Saturn, the spacecraft will fly in between the planet’s rings and atmosphere. No spacecraft has ever before flown in this region of any of the solar system’s ringed planets.

After 23 orbits, Cassini will dive into Saturn’s upper atmosphere September 15 where it will be destroyed. In 2008, mission managers explored a range of End of Mission scenarios that would protect Saturn’s moon’s from Earthly contaminants before ultimately deciding on atmospheric reentry.

Cassini began her End of Mission manoeuvres on November 26, 2016, when it began the first of 20 ring-grazing orbits. A close flyby of Titan April 22 will alter the spacecraft’s trajectory to begin the first of 23 orbits in the Grand Finale, which will begin April 26.

Cassini launched from Earth on October 15, 1997, and entered Saturn orbit June 30, 2004. Six months later, on January 14, 2005, the European-built Huygens probe attached to the spacecraft landed on Titan, becoming the first probe to land in the outer solar system. 

Originally scheduled for a four-year mission ending in 2008, Cassini received two mission extensions in 2008 and 2010, with the latter ending in 2017. With the spacecraft’s fuel reserves low, the Cassini team decided to end the mission.

P/C: JPL/Erik Wernquist

DIGITAL FUN̷̢̛͝ FACT #7281/a: By the year 2025, all of human̵͔̦̟͔̖̣͇̘̬̱̜͘͟͞ͅ kind will be caught in a recursive software iń̤̹̙stallation̯̺ loop wheņ̵̸́ the the only n̸̷̨͙̯̱̼̗̦͎͙͎̼̰͇̠̹͉̥̰͓̖͢͞ew computer programs available are for in̯̟̗͢͡͞͞͞stallin̷̷̗̟̩̤͍̥͕̻̭̞͓̜̥̟̹ͯ͒ͥͫͪͦ͛ͣ̓ͫ͐̃͗̀g n̛͜͝͠ew computer programs to iǹ̕stall n̸̡͝ew computer programs ad n̶̥̪͓̣̺̤̭͖̯̞͉̝̍ͧ̇̄̿̓ͤ͑ͨ̐ͪ͢͢͡͡ͅauseam.

You’ve probably heard a lot about our future filled with self-driving cars. In fact, they are already cruising the streets today. And while these cars will ultimately be safer and cleaner than their manual counterparts, they can’t completely avoid accidents altogether. How should the car be programmed if it encounters an unavoidable accident? In our TED-Ed Lesson, The ethical dilemma of self-driving cars, Patrick Lin navigates the murky ethics of self-driving cars.

Here’s an example for you to think about:

Let’s say there’s a motorcyclist wearing a helmet to your left and another one without a helmet to your right. Which one should your robot car crash into?

If you say the biker with the helmet because she’s more likely to survive, then aren’t you penalizing the responsible motorist? If, instead, you save the biker without the helmet because he’s acting irresponsibly, then you’ve gone way beyond the initial design principle about minimizing harm, and the robot car is now meting out street justice. 

The ethical considerations get more complicated here. In both of our scenarios, the underlying design is functioning as a targeting algorithm of sorts.2:44In other words, it’s systematically favoring or discriminating against a certain type of object to crash into. And the owners of the target vehicles will suffer the negative consequences of this algorithm through no fault of their own. 

Could it be the case that a random decision is still better than a predetermined one designed to minimize harm? And who should be making all of these decisions anyhow? Programmers? Companies? Governments? Reality may not play out exactly like our thought experiments, but that’s not the point. They’re designed to isolate and stress test our intuitions on ethics, just like science experiments do for the physical world. Spotting these moral hairpin turns now will help us maneuver the unfamiliar road of technology ethics, and allow us to cruise confidently and conscientiously into our brave new future. 

Check out the lesson here for more ethical quandaries to ponder.

Lesson by Patrick Lin

Animation by the ever-incredible Yukai Du