TIME Innovation

These Scientists Just Fired The World’s Most Powerful Laser

But only for a fraction of a second

Researchers at Osaka University said Monday that they successfully fired the world’s most powerful laser beam.

The energy captured in its concentrated beam was equal to 1,000 times the world’s electricity consumption, reported the Asahi Shimbun. The laser emitted a 2-petawatt, or 2-quadrillion-watt, output.

It was able to achieve that highly-concentrated energy by consolidating the power to a blast lasting one pico-second, or one-trillionth of a second. The researchers at the Institute of Laser Engineering used a massive LFEX, which stands for Laser for Fast Ignition Experiments, which uses four sets of devices within itself to repeatedly amplify the laser.

The researchers aren’t done, yet. Junji Kawanaka, an associate professor at the university, said they plan to increase their output to 10 petawatts.

TIME Microsoft

Why Windows 10 Users May Never Use Google Again

It could change the way you use the web

Microsoft’s new Windows 10 software, out Wednesday, is effectively a sneak attack on Google, packing a new desktop search bar that can field just about any question under the sun. And it’s powered in part by Microsoft’s own Bing search engine, meaning the move could help Microsoft gain even more of the search market share against its foremost rival.

Windows 10’s search features are a welcome change to the myriad search options currently sprawling across our digital lives. Right now, search looks a little like this: Want to search the web? Go to Google. Your calendar appointments? Open your calendar app. Your local files on a phone, tablet or PC? Launch finder windows, one by one. Microsoft aims to replace all of those searches with a single, comprehensive search bar that scans everything — your device, your apps, your cloud and the web — in one fell swoop.

The result is a more versatile search experience, but one that users may find momentarily disorienting. After all, we’re used to rummaging through digital compartments and wielding search like a spotlight. At first glance, the search bar in Windows 10 looks like yet another circumscribed spotlight. That is, until you start typing in commands. The scope of answers soon expands well beyond your expectations.

File searches work not only by name, but by file type. Type in “.ppt,” for example, and a list of PowerPoint presentations crops up in a pop-up menu, sortable by most recent or most relevant and accessible in one click. Searches for the names of apps extend beyond your device and into the Windows Store, fetching not only the apps you’ve installed, but the apps you may want to download, too.

When it comes to web searches, you may not regularly visit Bing, though it recently reached 20% of the search market share in the U.S. Windows 10 brings Bing to the forefront, fetching answers faster than you can type the word “Google.” Open-ended questions, like “what’s the meaning of life?” automatically opens up the relevant results on Bing’s landing page. As you type, Bing will autopopulate frequent search phrases (Life lyrics? Life of Pi?) before zipping the question out to the web.

Questions with more definitive answers, like “what’s 2+2,” come even faster with an assist from Cortana, Microsoft’s new voice-activated digital assistant. Cortana pulls the answer, (four, in case you were wondering), directly into a pop-up menu above the search bar, circumventing the web browser entirely.

And that’s where things get interesting, because Cortana can also use machine learning to display everything you wanted to know, but were too busy to ask. Microsoft’s group program manager for Cortana, Marcus Ash, showed TIME his personalized suggestions from Cortana during his recent visit to Manhattan. A stack of cards in a pop-up menu displayed nearby restaurants in Midtown.

“[Cortana] knows I’m in New York and knows it’s roughly lunch time,” Ash said as he scrolled through a list of pubs and delicatessens. “The list will change for happy hour and change for dinner later on.” Throw in stock price gyrations and flight cancellations, and the very idea of search as most of us know it starts to look outdated.

Read More: Here’s What Really Makes Microsoft’s Cortana So Amazing

Windows 10’s personalized search feature isn’t exactly a breakthrough. Google Now users have been seeing similar results since 2012, and Apple’s next big Siri upgrade offers similar functionality. But it’s a field open to competition, and winner of the search wars in the years ahead is likely to be the one that delivers the best personalized results right when you need them. In a sign of how far Microsoft has come, this writer, for the first time ever, used a Bing Map, despite my historical preference for Google, simply because it popped up first in a Windows 10 search menu. If that’s true of other Windows 10 users, Microsoft’s new operating system could prove an unexpectedly successful trojan horse for the company.

TIME Innovation

Boston’s 2024 Olympics Bid Could Have Been Saved

Signatures of support for Boston 2024 cover a banner on the table at a grassroots campaign in Boston on March 14, 2015.
John Tlumacki—The Boston Globe via Getty Images Signatures of support for Boston 2024 cover a banner on the table at a grassroots campaign in Boston on March 14, 2015.

It needed a bold statement of commitment to the city—not the Olympics

Boston’s pursuit of Olympic gold has been dying a slow death over the past seven months.

The final nail in the coffin came Monday, when Mayor Marty Walsh refused to sign a taxpayer guarantee as requested by the Unites States Olympic Committee (USOC), which would have taken effect in the event of cost overruns and revenue shortfalls.

As the city’s chief public official, Walsh was right to hold the line, to protect taxpayers and safeguard the future fiscal health and economic growth of the city and region.

But before the Walsh rebuff, Boston 2024 had other big hurdles to overcome. From the beginning, the bid played as a struggle between Boston’s business elite and commoners – the powerful versus powerless, the haves versus have-nots.

The Boston 2024 Olympic committee read as a who’s who of Boston corporate giants and sports celebrities. Those opposed included a collection of concerned residents, city councilors, local politicians and academics.

Boston 2024 and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) saw it necessary to alter and access neighborhoods, institutions and roads to accommodate Olympics venues, athletes and media. Those opposed said not so fast – we live and work here, want to know the true costs and would like to be included in the planning.

And tidbits such as assuring exclusive travel lanes on highways for IOC VIPs, athletes and corporate sponsors, and the high salaries and compensation for Boston 2024 staff and consultants, only added fuel to the haves versus have-nots narrative.

In the end, this narrative and, ultimately, the failed Olympic bid is unfortunate. As executive director of Wheelock College’s Aspire Institute, a social and education innovation center, I’ve seen and studied firsthand the many problems that plague Boston, from crumbling schools to endemic homelessness.

While the Boston 2024 bid raised many questions about the priorities of its backers, it also offered a historic opportunity to catalyze new development and transform the city in key ways. Boston 2024 could have been saved with only a bit more vision and a bold statement of commitment to the city – not the Olympics – by backers.

The wrong priorities

The prevailing narrative stems from the perceived sharp contrast between the priorities of the bidding committee and those of Bostonians.

At the same time as Boston 2024 proposed spending billions to construct new venues, the Boston Public Schools (BPS) announced its own 10-year Educational and Facility Master Plan.

While the former involved building an Olympic stadium, aquatics center, velodrome and an US$800 million deck over Widett Circle, the latter aimed to improve the physical condition of BPS’s 133 aging school facilities, expand early childhood programs, support dual language learners and children with special needs and promote STEM learning and technology-enhanced education.

Boston 2024 revealed slick plans for an Athletes’ Village that would be converted, post-Olympics, to 2,700 dorm beds for the University of Massachusetts’ Boston campus and 8,000 housing units nine years from now.

Yet this wouldn’t address the current housing crisis. Boston leads all of the 25 major US cities in the number of residents living in emergency shelters. Massachusetts also has one of the highest rates of family homelessness of any state in the country.

Further, Transportation for Massachusetts (a local coalition of organizations advocating for new transportation policy and initiatives) and TRIP (a national nonpartisan transportation research group) warned of the state’s huge need to invest in its system of roads, highways, bridges and public transportation in order to support economic growth, ensure safety, protect the environment and enhance residents’ quality of life.

Boston 2024 agreed that transportation enhancements were needed and critical to hosting a successful Olympics. Yet they had no plans to contribute funding to these enhancements.

Could Boston 2024 have been saved?

Whether the critiques of Boston 2024 are fair or not, the casualty of Boston’s derailed bid is the loss of a truly historic opportunity for long-term, large-scale economic and community development.

Plans included development of two new neighborhoods in currently underdeveloped, underinvested areas, as well as the creation of new public spaces and commercial areas. Lost too is the $4 billion in private investment, creation of thousands of jobs and intensified scrutiny of and urgency to improve our outdated transportation infrastructure. I concur with Boston 2024 Chairman Steve Pagliuca that this could have been “the biggest economic development opportunity of our lifetimes.”

What would have saved Boston 2024? What could have countered the anti-bid arguments and sentiments?

One bold move: Boston 2024 and the business leaders behind it should have pledged planning, support and private funding for economic community development in the city, regardless of whether Boston won the bid to host the 2024 Summer Olympics.

Such a pledge would have instantly and powerfully communicated the goodwill, commitment and intent of Boston 2024 leaders to all of Boston and Massachusetts. And this pledge could have had important, reasonable caveats.

For example, in the case of a failed bid, the pledge might be downsized to $2 billion in private investment (half of the current goal), a focus on just residential and commercial development projects and the already committed public capital funding.

Tax breaks and other incentives to developers – as proposed in the Olympic plan – would still lure private investors, and the city would still benefit from the projected tax revenue from new residential and commercial areas. Gone would be the billions in projected Olympic revenues. But the important community development would have gone forward.

Would such a pledge have been a long shot? A huge risk for business leaders? Of course, but so was Boston 2024 all along. Perhaps the risk was not having gone this far, in making this “no matter what” pledge.

As Chairman Pagliuca put it: “The riskiest move of all can be watching an opportunity slip away.”

This article originally appeared on The ConversationThe Conversation

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Innovation

A Code of Conduct for the Supreme Court

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

These are today's best ideas

1. Does the Supreme Court need a code of conduct?

By Lincoln Caplan in the New Yorker

2. Could the genes of real-life superheroes help find new pain drugs?

By Caroline Chen in Bloomberg Business

3. Here’s how scientists made solar power 30 percent more efficient.

By Iqbal Pittalwala at University of California Riverside

4. With privatized space travel, returning to the moon just got a lot cheaper.

By Elizabeth Howell in Space.com

5. Micropayments for news stories might be making a comeback.

By Matt Carroll in MediaShift

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Innovation

Elon Musk and Stephen Hawking Join Call for Ban on Artificially Intelligent Weapons

"It will only be a matter of time until they appear on the black market and in the hands of terrorists"

Physicist Stephen Hawking and Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk have joined scores of artificial intelligence and robotics experts calling for a ban on “offensive autonomous weapons” in an open letter published Monday.

“AI technology has reached a point where the deployment of such systems is–practically if not legally–feasible within years, not decades, and the stakes are high,” reads the letter, which the Guardian reports will be presented Wednesday at the International Joint Conference on Artificial Intelligence in Buenos Aires. “Autonomous weapons have been described as the third revolution in warfare, after gunpowder and nuclear arms.”

The letter distinguishes AI weapons, which can select and attack targets without human orders, from drones and cruise missiles whose targets are selected by humans. The letter also says that while artificial intelligence can make war zones safer for members of the military, weapons that can operate without human control would kick off “a global AI arms race.”

“It will only be a matter of time until they appear on the black market and in the hands of terrorists, dictators,” and other bad actors, the signatories warn. “There are many ways in which AI can make battlefields safer for humans, especially civilians, without creating new tools for killing people.”

Other signees include Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak as well as DeepMind founder and Google executive Demis Hassabis.

TIME Innovation

Why Students With Disabilities Are Punished More

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

These are today's best ideas

1. Find out why schools still disproportionately suspend and punish special-needs kids.

By Katherine Reynolds Lewis in the Atlantic

2. Despite the sharing economy buzz, the number of self-employed Americans is going down.

By Josh Zumbrun and Anna Louie Sussman in the Wall Street Journal

3. Antibiotic resistant bacteria just got worse.

By Rachael Rettner and LiveScience

4. Even states that lost President Obama’s ‘Race to the Top’ enacted education reforms.

By William G. Howell in EducationNext

5. Is domestication the last option for the world’s rhinos?

By Carly Nairn in Guernica Magazine

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Global Entrepreneur Summit 2015

Obama Sees Kenya as a Hotbed of Innovation — Not Terror

At the Global Entrepreneur Summit in Nairobi, the U.S. President focuses on how innovation and entrepreneurs are the key to Africa's future

Africa “is on the move,” President Obama told the world on Saturday. Speaking in Nairobi at the U.S.-sponsored Global Entrepreneur Summit, Obama told an audience of international innovators, investors, businessmen and government officials that the continent’s best route out of poverty and away from extremism is through supporting entrepreneurship. “It’s the spark of prosperity. It helps citizens stand up for their rights, and push back against corruption,” Obama said, after greeting the audience in Swahili, one of the languages of his Kenyan-born father.

While Obama said that his trip to Kenya, a first for a sitting American President, was in part personal—“there is a reason I am named Barack Hussein Obama,” he quipped to a roar of laughter—one of the principal drivers of his visit is to increase security partnerships in a region threatened by terrorism. Innovation and opportunity, Obama said, are the antidote. “Entrepreneurship offers a positive alternative to the ideologies of violence and division that all too often can fill the void when young people don’t see a future for themselves.”

Obama launched the Global Entrepreneur Summit in 2010 to encourage young innovators with mentorships, training and funding. As co-host with Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, Obama highlighted several Kenyan startups that are already changing the world, from crowd-sourcing platform Ushahidi to mobile banking innovation M-PESA. There are many more, he promised, and “each has the potential to be the next great Kenyan innovation.”

Obama didn’t have to look far for examples. In the audience was Erik Hersman, the American-born, Kenyan-educated co-founder of BRCK, a palm-size device that is changing how the developing world gets online. It’s a sturdy, battery-powered, portable server designed to deliver access to the Web for the estimated 800 million people in Africa who live off the Internet grid. The BRCK captures mobile phone signals using a data SIM card (which can be purchased anywhere in the world), and broadcasts it like a WiFi hotspot, even when there is no electricity. It’s water resistant, dust-proof and can survive being dropped on the ground. It will work wherever there is a signal, but is made for remote areas, as the logo printed on the back points out: If it can work in Africa, it can work anywhere.

“BRCK provides an ability to connect to content like we have never seen before,” said Erich Broksas, senior vice president for investment strategy at the Case Foundation, a Washington, D.C.-based philanthropic impact investment organization. Broksas, who was at the Summit scouting for investment opportunities, said that Kenyan innovations like the BRCK are appealing because they are designed specifically for their environment. “We see a lot of great ideas coming through a MIT development lab that don’t work in the real world. BRCK is a global solution designed for Africa, but one that can work just as easily in Palo Alto or Alaska.”

For the moment, however, Hersman is focusing closer to home. He has partnered with Kenyan digital learning startup eLimu to produce a tablet computer system designed for the country’s primary school students. When co-founders Nivi Mukherjee and Marie Githinji first launched their tablet-based learning app, they quickly understood that their biggest challenge wasn’t going to be the software, but the hardware. Existing tablets were not rugged enough for the rigors of primary school. They were expensive to replace and difficult to repair. Not all schools had electricity. Many also lacked Internet, so the software couldn’t be updated. They distributed two-dozen tablets loaded with eLimu’s interactive learning app to one school in the pilot program, only to return three weeks later to find the tablets locked in a closet.

Githinji and Mukherjee turned to Hersman for help. “We needed hardware that meets the functionality requirements, price point, and rugged shelf life of Africa,” said Mukherjee. Hersman and the eLimu team applied the BRCK philosophy to create a tablet computer sturdy enough to handle conditions in a Kenyan primary school. Then they built a portable kit that comes with one BRCK and 40 of those tablets, each nestled in a slot that provides contact-charging, which helps avoid tangled wires and broken chargers. Instead of loading software on each tablet, they loaded it onto to the BRCK, which then pushes the information to the tablets wirelessly. The BRCK itself can be updated remotely, via cellular signal. Even if it is not within mobile range, it can push content stored on the device to the tablets. As long as there is at least some electricity for a few hours a day, even if from a solar panel or a car battery, the whole kit can be charged up and ready for another school day.

The 40-tablet kit sells for $5,000—a fraction of the cost of most one-laptop-per-child programs. And there is a potentially huge market: The government of Kenya has committed $170 million to bring digital learning to its 22,000 primary schools by 2016, part of President Uhuru Kenyatta’s 2013 campaign pledge to improve the country’s education system. The Summit, said Hersman, will be a turning point for Kenyan startups. “Until now, the investment mindset has been ‘we will give you some money, but we really think of you as an aid recipient.’” By bringing in international investors, he said, the U.S. State Department is showing the world that “what is going on in Kenya isn’t just about safaris and slums and marathon runners. There are real businesses here providing real world solutions that have a global reach.” Echoing Kenyan frustration over being termed, by CNN, a “hotbed of terror,” Hersman evokes a better designation for his adopted country. Kenya, he said, is a hotbed of innovation.

TIME Innovation

How Using Data Could Stop Deadly Police Encounters

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

These are today's best ideas

1. Can police use data to prevent deadly encounters?

By Larry Greenemeier in Scientific American

2. Malaria kills half a million people every year. A first-ever vaccine is one step closer to reality.

By Alexandra Sifferlin in Time

3. NASA has discovered an older Earth-like planet. Can it tell us our future?

By Sarah Fecht in Popular Science

4. You can help verify the code that runs our nation’s defense — by playing these browser games.

By Paul Rubens at the BBC

5. Is it time to say goodbye to tipping?

By Twilight Greenaway in Civil Eats

 

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Innovation

How Marijuana Can Help Mend Broken Bones

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

These are today's best ideas

1. Can marijuana help broken bones heal?

By Judah Ari Gross in the Times of Israel

2. Parking spaces make it harder to build affordable housing.

By Joseph Stromberg in Vox

3. A decade ago, the west didn’t take a similar deal with Iran, and paid with a decade of regional chaos.

By Gareth Evans at Project Syndicate

4. Want better police relations with the community? Let teenagers train the cops.

By Brentin Mock in CityLab

5. Could today’s militias dividing Iraq and Syria become the peacekeepers of a future truce?

By Barbara F. Walter in Political Violence at a Glance

 

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Innovation

How Damaged Brains Can Learn From Healthy Ones

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

These are today's best ideas

1. Could damaged brains learn to heal from healthy ones?

By Brian Handwerk at Smithsonian Magazine

2. From VOA to Radio Free Europe, the U.S. needs a single news voice abroad.

By Al Pessin at Defense One

3. Here’s how the dwindling teacher supply is complicating education reform.

By Paul Bruno in the Brown Center Chalkboard at the Brookings Institution

4. The mobile web sucks.

By Nilay Patel in the Verge

5. What’s better than a clinical trial for understanding drug side effects?

By Aviva Rutkin in New Scientist

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

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