Innovation

The Good, The Bad and The Robot: Experts Are Trying to Make Machines Be “Moral”

Good vs. bad. Right vs. wrong. Human beings begin to learn the difference before we learn to speak—and thankfully so. We owe much of our success as a species to our capacity for moral reasoning. It’s the glue that holds human social groups together, the key to our fraught but effective ability to cooperate. We are (most believe) the lone moral agents on planet Earth—but this may not last. The day may come soon when we are forced to share this status with a new kind of being, one whose intelligence is of our own design.

Welcome to the Decentralized Energy Revolution: Cleanly Electrifying the World

While the boons of electricity are obvious to anyone who has watched a 49ers game on a 70-inch ultra HDTV or whipped up a frozen margarita in a blender, it also has its downsides—most of them environmental. Coal and natural gas power plants belch planet-warming CO2 into the atmosphere, while nuclear plants produce highly lethal radwaste.

The Ballad of John and Helen: Berkeley-Based Meyer Sound Are Global Audio Pioneers

Drop out. It’s such a leaden term. Yes, yes, Helen Brodsky dropped out of UC Berkeley in 1968, dashing the hopes and dreams of her Cal alumni-laden family. Before even declaring a major (she was leaning toward Russian Lit), she and her new boyfriend, John Meyer, an autodidact with a gift for tinkering and engineering, decided that unsettled times called for adventurous spirits, and lit out for the East, ending up in India.

From the Spring 2015 Dropouts and Drop-ins issue of California.

Natural by Design: Next-Gen Robots Run, Flap, Crawl—and Talk to Each Other

Imagine a city in the near future devastated by a powerful earthquake. Rescue workers arrive and unleash hundreds of tiny robots. Some of these robots flap into the air with “wings,” sending images of the disaster area to the ground team—a swarm of insect-like devices the size of a matchbox that scuttle over the concrete and disappear into crevices. One robot’s sensors detect a person trapped under the rubble, so it signals to a larger, stronger robot for assistance before moving on to the next building.

From the Spring 2015 Dropouts and Drop-ins issue of California.

An Orgasm App? UC Berkeley-Nurtured Tech Team Launches its “Smart” Vibrator

Wave energy. A portable spirometer for kids with asthma. Tools to lower the carbon footprint. A robot-building kit. 

These are just a few examples of what UC Berkeley startups are developing at the Foundry, Cal’s technology incubator. But Liz Klinger and James Wang are working on something else entirely: a smart vibrator. 

Print This: UC Berkeley Uses 3D Printers to Construct a First-Ever Cement Pavilion

Perhaps you remember the day when printers, requiring only lowly paper and toner, simply produced documents. Now we’re well on our way into the Jetsonian age: today 3D printers, supplied with a sophisticated cement, can produce a house.

That, in fact, is precisely what’s happening at UC Berkeley today as a team headed by associate professor of architecture Ronald Rael unveils his architectural creation “Bloom”—billed as the first and largest powder-based 3D-printed cement structure to date.

Not So Fast: At UC Berkeley, Biofuel Research Takes Hit as BP Oil Company Backs Away

Eight years ago, UC Berkeley struck a historic but controversial deal with the British oil company BP: Berkeley would benefit from the oil giant spending $350 million to create a new Energy Biosciences Institute on its campus, and BP would reap the benefits of that institute’s research into biofuels.

Now, with almost $100 million still unspent, the road to cleaner biofuels has just hit a big speed bump.

Grid Guru: This Atypical Biophysicist’s Startup Helps Us Control Where Energy Comes From

Yes, it’s true that there aren’t many women in the sciences. And the reason for the gender gap is predictable: Male scientists seem to like it that way. That, at least, was the conclusion of a 2013 Yale study that found physicists, biologists and chemists are inclined to view a young male scientist more positively than a young woman with the same qualifications. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to conclude that it may be a little harder to achieve tenure or obtain research funding in such circumstances.

SkyDeck Success: Berkeley Project Helps Six Soar onto Forbes “30 Under 30” Lists

Whatever wariness has accompanied the collaboration between public universities and private sector profit-seeking, that horse appears well out of the barn, foaming at the mouth and galloping madly for the horizon. At UC Berkeley, academic/corporate “incubators” and “accelerators” are all the rage. Supporters focus on the upside: Creative researchers are able to launch start-ups that produce spookily cool products and generate gigabucks in the process—and may even embody the maxim to do well by doing good.

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