Synthetic Biology Could Bring a Pox on Us All

David Ewing Duncan The Next Best Version of Me: How to Live Forever David Kushner A Deadly Hunt for Hidden Treasure Spawns an Online Mystery Megan Molteni A New Lab Is Brewing Microbes to Create Makeup and Medicines The existence of the vials raised another chilling possibility: Could smallpox make a comeback? If these samples were left behind, who knows how many others could remain. The US maintains enough of the smallpox vaccine to protect all 328 million Americans. But in the decades since the disease was eradicated, scientists have discovered that several groups of people—those with HIV, pregnant women, newborns, and cancer survivors among them—are at risk for complications from the vaccine, such as heart inflammation and brain infections. …

Robot Natural Selection Recombines Into Something Totally New

This story is part of a week-long series on reproduction, from prenatal testing to childfree Reddit. Bacteria do it. Viruses do it. Worms, mammals, even bees do it. Every living thing on earth replicates, whether that be asexually (boring) or sexually (fun). Robots do not do it: The machines are steely and very uninterested in reproduction. But perhaps they can learn. Scientists in a fascinating field known as evolutionary robotics are trying to get machines to adapt to the world, and eventually to reproduce on their own, just like biological organisms. As in, someday two robots that are particularly well-adapted to a certain environment could combine their genes (OK, code) to produce a 3D-printed baby robot combining the strengths of …

10 Women in Science and Tech Who Should Be Household Names

It’s International Women’s Day, a time to celebrate the achievements of women around the world and throughout history. But the day is also about recognizing the hardships women face and the continued urgency of the fight for gender equality. That is true of WIRED’s world too—the world of technology and science, of media and innovation. Though this magazine was cofounded by a woman, and women have been key figures in every part of scientific and technological progress, men’s narratives still dominate. Men still hold more STEM jobs. Men make more of the money. Men’s issues are treated with more respect and funded at higher rates. Men have more power. To be a woman in science and tech and even media …

Quantum Physics Could Protect the Grid From HackersMaybe

Cybersecurity experts have sounded the alarm for years: Hackers are ogling the US power grid. The threat isn’t merely hypothetical—a group affiliated with the Russian government gained remote access to energy companies’ computers, the Department of Homeland Security published last March. In some cases, the hackers could even directly send commands to mess with hardware, which meant they could have cut off the power entirely to customers’ homes. To shut these hackers out, utility companies need better security. One group of physicists think they have a patch: quantum-encrypted power stations. They tested the idea this February, hauling several SUVs’ worth of lasers, electronics, and extremely sensitive detectors from Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, down to Chattanooga. After …