The Six Most Fascinating Things on the Web This Week

Robot Makes Its Own Scientific Discovery


Scientists at the U.K.’s Aberystwyth University gave a laboratory robot named Adam a database about yeast biology, articulated arms, and artificial intelligence, and it came back to them with an independently-made scientific discovery. Sure, it’s just a small revelation about yeast gene coding, but it’s been confirmed by human scientists and announced as the first time in human history that a machine discovered new scientific knowledge of its own accord. If the University’s next robot, Eve, can improve upon Adam’s work, scientists may soon be able to leave humdrum research to the drones, concentrating instead on cutting edge experiments themselves.

The Industrial Hemp Farming Act

Hemp, a tremendously versatile plant for making paper and textiles, was made illegal fifty years ago because of its passing resemblence to marijuana. Now Representatives Barney Frank (D-MA) and Ron Paul (R-TX) have introduced a bill that would legalize the farming of the fast-growing, evironmentally-friendly plant. Rep. Paul has framed hemp farming as a way to help ailing American farmers with a new low-cost cash crop, while other supporters of the bill are quick to point out that several of the nation’s founding fathers were hemp farmers. Sixteen states have already passed pro-hemp legislation, and the bill has the support of the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture.

One in 10 Americans is on Food Stamps

On Thursday, the government released data that revealed that as of this month, 32.2 million Americans–10% of the populous–had received food stamps in January. That’s not surprising considering that unemployment has recently hit a 25-year high, reaching 8.1% in February, with new claims for jobless benefits hitting almost 700,000 last week. A full half-million people enrolled in food stamp programs between December 2008 and January 2009, with Vermont, Alaska, and South Dakota posting the biggest jumps.

How One Random Mutation Enlarged Our Brains


About seven million years ago, human beings diverged from their primate cousins. They kept their large, powerful jaws, compact skull and small brains, and we developed giant brain-cases and dainty, low-leverage mandibles. A new post on the always-interesting blog elegantly explains how one random protein mutuation in our forbears had a cascading effect that allowed our skulls to lose their giant ridges, necessary to anchor large jaw muscles, creating the space needed for our growing brains.

Paradigm Shift in Globalization

The idea that all markets should operate on an equal plane appears to be losing its cachet, if the G20 summit this week is any indication. The U.S., once the biggest proponent of unfettered globalization, was presented by President Obama as a leader in a new kind of measured, regulated capitalism. With his leadership, the group of 20 produced a series of powerful new regulations, many of which give more power of oversight to the IMF and the World Bank, that have been hired by the G20 to enforce new regulatory safeguards. The first step: allowing the IMF to create hundreds of billions of dollars in its own currency, acting as a worldwide lender of last resort for troubled economies. More G20 meetings will refine the roles of the superbanks.

Voice, Outmoded

An article in today’s The New York Times reports that voicemail, once a communicatory boon, is being abandoned by many young professionals in favor of email and text messaging. The article cites data from a Verizon contractor and Sprint’s wireless division saying that people under 30 are four times as likely to respond to text messages within an hour as they are to voicemails, and many wireless phone users rarely dial in to listen to their messages at all. The trend has sparked a cottage industry of companies like PhoneTag, a service that will transcribe your voicemails and email them to you for a small charge. Google’s new telephony service, Google Voice, will do this for free when it is taken out of private beta next month.


About the author

I've written about innovation, design, and technology for Fast Company since 2007. I was the co-founding editor of FastCoLabs.