Science News: GMO’s in New Zealand, Robot ethics and the flight of the Kiwi

I was on First@Five this morning with James Coleman talking about this science news:  

The ancestors of the Kiwi were not immigrants from Australia. The Kiwi, once thought to have been related most closely through common ancestry to the Australian Emu has just been informed that it’s ancient uncle is more likely the now extinct, Elephant bird of Madagascar. The elephant bird is another flightless ratite but this one is 2.3 meters tall and by all accounts a formidable species. The work, by the Australian Centre for Ancient DNA was published in the journal Science and was based on DNA extracted from fossils in Museum of New Zealand, Te Papa Tongarewa.

Genetically Modified Organisms : ZFN-1 and TALEs are two technologies in the toolkit of modern geneticists that allow for specific and targeted modification of the DNA without the need to introduce new or foreign DNA into the existing genetic material of an organism. Because this does not produce “transgenic” organisms that have combinations of DNA from previously separate organisms, ‘SCION a Crown Research Institute planned to use these technologies to develop new pine tree strains. The EPA had determined that organisms that had undergone these procedures did not constitute new, genetically modified organisms under the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act (1996).  Specifically the HSNO states new organisms have been modified by in vitro techniques or genes have have been modified by in vitro techniques. The sustainability council had asked the high court to rule on these technologies and the high court has over ruled the EPA decision. For more information and expert opinion gathered by the Science Media Centre see here. 


War Robot Ethics. A Linda Johansson of Sweden’s KTH Royal Institute of Technology has written a thesis suggesting that it is time that we start considering what the ethics of war will be if the primary combatants are robots. Are robots to be held responsible for decisions that they make in the context of war? Despite traditional views of programming, robots today are programmed over time by hundreds of people and also have the capacity to “learn” and are therefore not as predictable as more conventional machines. She also raises issues regarding the place in combat of drone operators in the Laws of War (LOW). You can read more of her papers here.

The subject reminded me of Dr. Daniel Wilson’s book “How to survive a robot uprising: Tips on defending yourself against the coming rebellion.” You can see his instructional video on the subject here. Good luck!


About drhhnz

Microbiology, Evolution and Bacteriophages. Lecturer, Institute of Natural and Mathematical Sciences. Massey University. Superhero name: Microbiology Girl. Auckland, New Zealand · Twitter: drhhnz
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