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Good Reads: From future robots, to crowd-sourcing problems, to praise for kids

This week's roundup of Good Reads topics includes the future of humanoid robots, the endless loop of poverty, crowdsourcing science problems, how to better manage burned forests, and the impact of too much praise for children.

By Staff writer / February 1, 2014

Bipedal humanoid robot ‘Atlas’ developed by Boston Dynamics.

Tyrone Siu/Reuters

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In the past year, Google has scooped up several humanoid robotics companies, including Boston Dynamics, maker of all-terrain quadrupeds Big Dog and Little Dog; Nest Labs, maker of the smart thermostat and smoke detector; and a wind turbine manufacturer. Add those recent acquisitions to Google’s fleet of self-driving cars and it becomes clear that the search engine has some big ideas for its role in our future, writes Nick Bilton for The New York Times.

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Staff writer

Noelle Swan writes for the national news desk at the Monitor. She previously worked on the Business and Family pages as a writer and editor.

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“Yet many of its competitors seem to be stuck in the present,” he writes, before adding that Facebook’s, Yahoo’s, and Twitter’s recent acquisitions seem much less ambitious. “It’s unclear where Apple fits into all of this – the company, is, after all, better at keeping secrets than the National Security Agency.... But if Apple is working in secret on its own robot army and futuristic universe, Google is building for the future in public.”

The bottomless pit of poverty

Fifty years after President Lyndon Johnson declared a war on poverty, many of the nation’s poor remain trapped in an endless loop of work, exhaustion, and uncertainty, writes author Barbara Ehrenreich for The Atlantic. “Poverty is not a character failing or a lack of motivation,” she insists. “Poverty is a shortage of money. For most women in poverty, in both good times and bad, the shortage of money arises largely from inadequate wages.”

Ms. Ehrenreich, who wrote “Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America,” tried her hand at several entry-level jobs most readily available to women including hotel housekeeper, server, nursing-home aide, and Wal-Mart associate. She quickly learned that minimum wage did not bring in enough money to pay the bills and the sporadic hours made it nearly impossible to find a second job.

“To be poor – especially with children to support and care for – is a perpetual high-wire act,” she writes.

Crowdsourcing climate change

“If there ever was a problem that’s hard to solve, it’s climate change,” Thomas Malone, Robert Laubacher, and Laur Fisher write for NOVA Next. The challenge is so complex that no one person could ever have the kind of in-depth expertise in atmospheric physics, economics, and human behavior that the task calls for. No problem, write the three researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Center for Collective Intelligence in Cambridge, many heads are better than one anyway.

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Danny Bent poses at the starting line of the Boston Marathon in Hopkinton, Mass.

After the Boston Marathon bombings, Danny Bent took on a cross-country challenge

The athlete-adventurer co-founded a relay run called One Run for Boston that started in Los Angeles and ended at the marathon finish line to raise funds for victims.

 
 
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