Why Termites Are Giving Humans a Lot to Chew On

The Industrious "Underbug" Isn't Just Chomping Our Houses. It's Furnishing Clues About the Future of Technology, Energy, and Warfare.

Apart from mosquitoes and cockroaches, termites may be the least beloved insects rambling around our planet. But they’re also among the most underappreciated of creepy-crawlies—and their example can tell us a thing or two about how to create biofuels, train robots, and harness artificial intelligence.

Author and journalist Lisa Margonelli made her best case for the lowly and unsightly, yet ubiquitous and highly successful arthropods at a Zócalo discussion titled “What Can Termites Teach Us About the Future of Technology?”

Margonelli, deputy editor at Zócalo Public Square, is an unabashed fan …

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How Crop Circles Saved the Great Plains

In the 1940s, Farmer Frank Zybach Invented Center Pivot Irrigation and Brought the Dust Bowl Back to Life

If you live in the Great Plains, sooner or later you’ll get a question about those “crop circles” that can be observed from airplane windows during flights over the region. …

Are Call Centers Rebranding the Philippines?

As the Global Economy's Biggest Back Office, the Nation Seeks to Depict Its Workers as Educated, Empathetic, and English Fluent

What changes in a country—and what doesn’t change—when it devotes itself to servicing the businesses of other countries?

Not long ago, I found myself looking for answers to that question in …

When Numeracy Superseded Literacy—and Created the Modern World

The Renaissance's Embrace of Numbers Revolutionized Commerce, Science, and Art

In 1025, two learned monks, Radolph of Liége and Ragimbold of Cologne, exchanged several letters on mathematical topics they had encountered while reading a manuscript of the sixth-century Roman philosopher, …

How the Pickup Truck Carried the American South Into the Future

From 'Rusty Rattletraps' to 'Big Black Jacked-Up' Rides, the Iconic Vehicles Symbolize Blue-Collar Identity While Flaunting Bourgeois Prosperity

The pickup truck’s rise from its crude, makeshift origins to the almost luxury-item status it enjoys today amounts to a Horatio Alger tale with a technological twist, providing a striking …

How the Industrial Age Fuels Our Belief in UFOs

Fears of Zeppelins, Rockets, and Drones Have Replaced the "Celestial Wonders" of Ancient Times

In 1896, newspapers throughout the United States began reporting accounts of mysterious airships flying overhead. Descriptions varied, but witnesses frequently invoked the century’s great technological achievements. Some sources reported dirigibles …