The power of poo, and what to expect from robots: Books in brief

Other dark matter

Lena Zeldovich University. Chicago Press (2021)

Sewage is the subject of this essential original book, which was rejected by many publishing houses because of the “yuck factor,” as journalist Lena Zeldovich notes. Her lifelong interest stems from her scientifically trained Russian grandfather, who annually recycles the family’s septic tank to their farm, treating the contents as Hassan – ‘Wealthy’. Zeldowicz describes the growing global awareness of how human waste can become a sustainable source of energy, an organic fertilizer and a medicinal remedy.


Meg Loman Allen and Unwin (2021)

For centuries, the health of trees – even the tallest ones – has been assessed at eye level. Today, more than half of terrestrial creatures are known to live 30 meters above our heads, notes tree-climbing biologist Meg Lohmann, an arburnite since the 1970s. Her fascinating, informative and evocative memoir explores the Eighth Continent of tree canopies of ropes, trails, cherry pickers, hot air balloons, cranes, and drones. Its Mission Green project aims to conserve high biodiversity canopies by stewarding native forests.

Robots rule

Martin Ford Basic (2021)

According to software developer Martin Ford, artificial intelligence (AI) is likely to transform society faster than electricity, but with unexpected effects. His insightful study reports a 2016 prediction that within five years, artificial intelligence will outperform radiologists. But this has not happened: AI cannot currently integrate basic information from sources such as clinical observations. Ford concludes that the future of AI lies somewhere between the extremes of utopian science fiction Star Trek the miserable the matrix.

In the anthropocosmos

Ariel Akplaw (Editor) MIT Press (2021)

This lavishly illustrated book chronicles the MIT Space Exploration Initiative, founded by Ariel Ekblau, which develops tools and projects to “really make space for everyone” as stated by astronaut Cady Coleman. Ekblaw says the project is “grounded” in Sunrise Photo taken by Apollo 8, which reinforces the responsibilities of humanity as citizens of this planet. The illustrated space experiments range from biology and engineering to cooking and music, including social robots to alleviate astronauts’ isolation.

future Man

Ananyu Bhattacharya Allen Lin (2021)

Hungarian-born mathematician John von Neumann influenced many areas. In 1927-1932, he helped establish quantum mechanics. During World War II, it was key to efforts to create the atomic bomb. Later, he co-designed the first programmable electronic digital computer, was a visionary of artificial intelligence and introduced game theory to political science, military strategy, psychology, and evolutionary biology. Excellent in science, Ananyo Bhattacharya’s ambitious biographer struggles to portray a conflicted human being.

conflict of interest

The author declares no conflict of interest.

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