As the global atmospheric conditions that drive water cycles change, scientists are exploring ways to force precipitation. But what would it take to pull water from the atmosphere on an industrial scale?
The spread of information and communication technologies hasn't delivered the "global village" it promised -- at least, not in the form that was originally envisioned. The original vision largely ignored the difficulties that harmoniously amalgamating an array of different cultures would present.
Since U.S. physiologist Ancel Keys began the famous (and to some, infamous) Seven Countries Study in 1956 linking diet to coronary heart problems, officials have been slow to act. Cardiovascular disease is still the leading cause of death worldwide; of those deaths, as many as three-fourths occur in low- and middle-income countries. Though we have made significant headway in areas like reducing the use of tobacco, have we really done enough to tackle unhealthy diets and the health problems they can cause?
The biologist's approach to answering questions is different from that of the political scientist, who typically stacks facts and premises in an orderly fashion that preferably feeds into a grand overarching theory. But the principle of Occam's razor -- a scientist favorite that argues for simpler theories being preferable to more complex ones -- only works in areas that are simple enough to be explained by the theories put forth. Or, in the words of Albert Einstein, "Everything should be as simple as it can be, but not simpler." And when it comes to human affairs, even the simplest explanation is still dauntingly complex.
When scientists launched the Human Genome Project in 1990, it promised to be a major breakthrough in the study of human genetics for conquering disease. At least compared with the high expectations it initially inspired, it has been rather disappointing for the major diseases. At the same time, however, the leaps in laboratory machinery that have been made because of the ambitious endeavor have surpassed even the wildest of dreams.
Leonardo da Vinci, perhaps the most famous Renaissance man in history, once claimed, "The noblest pleasure is the joy of understanding." If anyone were qualified to say so, it would be him: Da Vinci excelled in nearly every field of science, technology and art that existed in his time. During the Renaissance, it seemed as if there were no limits to man's capacity to learn. But the world has changed since da Vinci's day.
"Bigger is only sometimes better" is a mantra those who make, and those who use, rotary aircraft may want to take to heart. Small and cheap multi-rotor drones have been buzzing around consumer markets for the past few years, and the military has likewise adopted these little vehicles for their utility in flying reconnaissance missions and obtaining local situational awareness. The Black Hornet Nano, for example, carries three cameras and can fly autonomously for 20 minutes before recharging but is small enough to fit in the palm of your hand.
Sixty years ago, Nobel Prize-winning geneticist Joshua Lederberg shocked the world with the first serious scientific paper detailing the feasibility of human cloning. Four decades later, a sheep named Dolly -- the first large mammal ever cloned -- brought his prediction a step closer to becoming a reality. Now the realization of Lederberg's proposal seems quite plausible, even if the technology needed to artificially produce humans may not emerge for another few decades.
Are we bound to repeat the mistakes of the past? The source of modern wars has been complicated by a characteristic that is unique to mankind: In addition to the physiological sense of not having enough, we have a psychological sense of not having our fair share.
Global events unfold without waiting for mankind to catch up. If we do feel we are the masters of our own destiny, it is only because we have convinced ourselves that we have outrun the challenges thrown at us. But the age-old advice regarding the stock market is no less applicable to handling international crises: Past performance is no guarantee of future results.