The Economist Technology Quarterly: August 2012

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In the Technology Quarterly published in today's newspaper, The Economist examines the latest innovations in technology and evaluates their benefits and pitfalls.

Self-driving cars: Cars that can drive themselves are closer than you might think and promise to reduce road accidents, ease congestion and revolutionise transport. Cruise-control, lane-keeping and self-parking systems are getting smarter, and a few full autonomous vehicles are already on the roads. This could transform car design, redefine car ownership and affect city planning.

Energy weapons: Military lasers are coming. Energy weapons are finally moving from the laboratory to the real world, but they are hardly the super-weapons of science fiction. So much energy is needed to burn through a tank's armour that it is easier simply to fire a rocket at it. But energy weapons will have their uses and are moving towards deployment.

Phase-change memory: This technology will soon be storing your music and photos. Phase-changing memory chips, an emerging technology, could soon dethrone flash memory in smartphones, cameras and laptops. And as well as dethroning flash, phase-change memory could also lead to a radical shift in computer design.

Solar lamps: New technology and business models are lighting the way and could soon doom kerosene. Cheaper and better solar-powered electric lights promise to do away with kerosene-fuelled lanterns as they work anywhere the sun shines, even in places that are off the grid.

Other topics in the latest Technology Quarterly include:

- Robotics: A marine robot uses sonar to scan for tiny limpet mines attached to a ship's hull.

- Military technology: New kinds of paint for military vehicles can detect, absorb and neutralise gases in a chemical weapon attack.

- Technology and society: To what extent can social networking make it easier to find people and solve real-world problems?

- Technology and regulation: A research project considers how the law should deal with technologies that blur man and machine.
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