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Thursday briefing: Water detected on habitable-zone planet 110 light years away

Exoplanet K2-18b (Artist’s Impression)ESA/Hubble, M. Kornmesser Get WIRED’s daily briefing in your inbox. Sign up hereWater detected on habitable-zone planet 110 light years awayAstronomers have detected the presence of water vapour in the atmosphere of a planet – K2-18b – across a vast 110 light year distance using data gathered by the Kepler space telescope…

Exoplanet K2-18b (Artist’s Impression)

ESA/Hubble, M. Kornmesser

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Water detected on habitable-zone planet 110 light years away

Astronomers have detected the presence of water vapour in the atmosphere of a planet – K2-18b – across a vast 110 light year distance using data gathered by the Kepler space telescope in 2015 (BBC News). The planet lies within its star’s habitable zone – the distance range capable of supporting liquid surface water and thus, potentially, Earth-like life – but is eight times larger than the Earth and orbits a red dwarf star far smaller and cooler than our Sun.

McDonald’s acquires AI voice recognition startup to take Drive Thru orders

Fast food chain McDonald’s has bought Apprente, an AI voice recognition startup, with plans to use its technology in its Drive Thru order systems (The Register). Apprente speech recognition will likely be added to both the company’s mobile app and its order kiosks, with the ultimate goal of at least partially replacing human workers’ role in taking voice orders.

Pet food companies are going vegan but it’s not a great idea

Meat analogues for humans are already big business and our pets consume around a fifth of the world’s meat and fish (WIRED). Now, the pet food market – which is worth more than £2.9 billion a year in the UK alone – is getting an environmentally-friendly and ethical makeover.

Startups, backed by high-profile investors, are racing to reinvent food for those seeking to reduce their pets’ carbon “pawprint”. But how healthy are these meat-free and slaughter-free alternatives for the animals?

Uber plans to ignore California gig-economy bill as drivers aren’t core to its business, apparently

App-based taxi and food delivery firm Uber says that it won’t need to give its California contract drivers employee status in the wake of new legislation because “drivers’ work is outside the usual course of Uber’s business, which is serving as a technology platform for several different types of digital marketplaces” (The Verge). It’s a startlingly improbable claim, but not surprising one to hear from Uber, which has always maintained that it’s a provider of software and online services, rather than the transport and delivery services it offers to end users.

A UK ban on loot boxes could kill FIFA Ultimate Team as we know it

In a few weeks, FIFA 20, the next iteration of EA’s wildly popular football simulation franchise, will hit consoles with a raft of new game modes (WIRED). But for many players, it will be all about FIFA Ultimate Team, where they can assemble their own roster of stars by buying or unlocking packs of mystery players – one day you could get Lionel Messi, the next it could be Phil Jones.

However, these probability-based ‘loot boxes’ have often been criticised for introducing young people to what many consider a form of gambling, and now a government committee has recommended restricting the sale of loot boxes to children.

Japan’s high-tech toilets are finally conquering the West

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