Robots are becoming increasingly useful. And they’re arriving just in time to save us from an ageing workforce, experts say.

The evolution of robots [Phonlamai Photo/Shutterstock]

Rather than be worried that robots will take our jobs over the next 20 years, we should be more afraid there won’t be enough robots. That’s the prediction made by roboticist and serial entrepreneur Rodney Brooks.

The pioneering Australian, founder of iRobot — the Boston-based billion-dollar company which has sold more than 30 million robots worldwide (including the Roomba vacuum cleaner and the Packbot bomb disposal rovers) — says the world is on the verge of a major shift that will see the world’s robot population explode into every facet of life.

It’s being driven by dramatic recent advances in…


Nature’s deadliest weapon is giving scientists new tools to fight disease and control the body’s internal machinery.

Prof Glenn King holds a rainforest scorpion under UV black light in the insectary at Queensland’s Institute for Molecular Bioscience [Russell Shakespeare]

STUDYING VENOM is a risky business. Ask Bryan Fry: he’s been bitten by venomous creatures 27 times — mostly by snakes on land and at sea, and by box jellyfish and stingrays. He’s also amassed 23 broken bones, 400 stitches and three concussions, once breaking his back in three places and spending months in hospital relearning to walk.

But the herpetologist — the branch of zoology dealing with reptiles and amphibians — is no masochist: it’s just that to study venom, you have to go into the wild to collect the critters in their native habitats. …


Behind every airline flight is an army of people and a phalange of technology that makes every take-off and landing possible.

A Qantas Boeing 747–200 taking off [Craig Murray]

FORTY MINUTES before scheduled take-off of this Qantas Boeing 747–200, the technical crew arrives: the captain, the first officer (or co-pilot) and the flight engineer. Each carries a thick, ring-bound folder, the Quick Reference Manual, with a slew of instrumentation and safety checks they will perform over the next half-hour.

Outside, engineers have been crawling along the length of the plane for the past 30 minutes, poking and prodding at valves and hoses and opening hatches like a pit-stop crew in a Formula One race.

In the cockpit, the pilots talk in short staccato quips, take notes with gold-plated pens…


A decade ago, when the first man to walk the Moon called for a new age of space exploration, it was inspiring but fanciful. That’s no longer the case.

A still from the 2018 film “First Man,” in which Ryan Gosling plays famed Apollo 11 astronaut Neil Armstrong [Universal/DreamWorks]

WHAT DO YOU ask a man who walked on the Moon, and has never been able to live it down? All because he happened to be the first human being to set foot on another world?

This is the thought that had me brooding a decade ago this week, as I nursed a glass of red wine and peered across the vast hall of men and women in business attire who shuffled to and fro, anxious to enter the Parkside Ballroom at the Sydney Convention Centre in Darling Harbour, where Neil Armstrong was to make what would become — unbeknownst…


Begun as curiosity-driven research, it is now accelerating advances in everything from computing to medicine and finance.

Artist’s impression of spin-orbit coupling of atom qubits used in quantum computing (Tony Melov/CQC2T)

BELOW THE SIZE of atoms, the world functions strangely: particles can be waves, waves can be particles, and particles can jump vast distances without traversing space. Yet, these strange phenomena, known as quantum mechanics and discovered just over a century ago by academics, are now embedded in technologies we take for granted, like computer memory, lasers, and solar cells.

Now that same research field — thanks to decades of persistent work by scientists and engineers — is ushering in what has been called the ‘second quantum revolution’. …


They should have died out with the dinosaurs, but their seedlings are now being nurtured back from oblivion.

IT HAS BEEN CALLED the botanical find of a century: a lonely stand of conifers, the last of their kind and thought to have been extinct for aeons — until three bushwalkers came across them one sunny winter afternoon.

The 23 odd-looking pines, stretching up to 40 metres through the canopy of a deep and inaccessible gorge in Australia’s Wollemi National Park, are from a group that once covered the southern supercontinent of Gondwana.

Now known as ‘Wollemi Pines’, the trees were thought to have disappeared long before humans walked the Earth — until David Noble and his companions stumbled…


When wild weather hammered Australia’s east coast, researchers leapt into action, collecting the most detailed data ever — and creating powerful tools to predict future storms.

Stormy ocean waves strike the coast of Sydney, Australia [Gergo Rugli/Shutterstock]

MITCHELL HARLEY doesn’t believe in monsters. But on arriving in the office on a crisp Monday morning in May 2016, what he saw made his hair stand on end — a monster of a storm was on its way.

“Just seeing the extremity of what was being predicted — waves of up to seven metres from an east to northeast direction — then I looked at the tide charts, and realised the waves were going to coincide with the highest tides of the year. …


At pains to downplay Facebook’s power and influence, CEO Mark Zuckerberg actually proved both — then lost the battle.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg [Twitter]

IT CAME SUDDENLY and without warning: on Thursday 18 February 2021, Australians woke up to find news stories gone from Facebook; not just links to Australian news, but news as a category. From anywhere.

Links to news content were blocked to all 13 million users in Australia, as were the local and international Facebook pages of media sites. Users were not only prevented from sharing news content, but any old posts they’d shared, from any news outlet around the world, disappeared.

In true Facebook fashion, the blanket ban also had unintended consequences: hundreds of charities, sports clubs, community groups, arts…


Artificial intelligence can mimic human decisions — but also drastically amplify hidden biases.

When an AI system makes an error, that error can be repeated again and again, no matter how many times it looks at the same data under the same circumstances [Pixabay]

ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE is increasingly creeping into everyday life, from Google searches and matching singles on dating sites to Siri recommendations and detecting credit card fraud. But how much can we trust the computer algorithms that drive it?

“People fear AI and machine learning because they think it’s about a shift of power from the human to machine,” Dr. Suelette Dreyfus, a lecturer in the University of Melbourne’s School of Computing and Information Systems, said in a panel discussion [see video] on artificial intelligence (AI) between academic and industry experts in November 2020.

“But actually, it’s also a shift in power…


A new space race is unfolding, driven by commerce and permanent bases on the Moon. To succeed, they’ll need to be self-sustaining.

One of the first photographs of Earthrise, seen by the three astronauts on the Apollo 8 mission, the first humans to circumnavigate the Moon [Credit: NASA]

WHEN SOPHIA Casanova was 10, her parents bought her a telescope, and she fell head over heels for all things space. She’d spend lazy summers in her hometown of Sydney, Australia, in the late 1990s revelling in the stars and watching the haunting phases of the serene, implacable Moon.

“That was the tipping point, really,” says the young Australian geologist, who’s now busily designing missions to prospect for — and eventually mine — water ice on the Moon and Mars. “It’s absolutely incredible to see through a telescope,” she says of the Moon, which she still views through a bigger…

Wilson da Silva

Science journalist | wilsondasilva.com

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