November 8, 2013
A little over a week ago, the world’s first Bitcoin ATM was launched to much fanfare in a Vancouver coffee shop called Waves Coffee. This particular machine is made by a company called Robocoin and they sell for $20,000 per unit. While I applaud the company for installing the world’s first Bitcoin ATM, I have been quite vocal in my opposition to their requirement that you use biometrics in order to access the machine (a palm scanner). I find this to be an unnecessary feature that will only serve to condition people to use biometrics for financial transactions and I view this as unacceptable.
Another company called Lamassu, Inc. is also building Bitcoin ATMs and their machines do no require biometrics, so I will be watching their rollout closely.
My strongly supportive public position on Bitcoin has been made clear for well over a year now. In fact, my first lengthy article on it was in August 2012, when it was still trading around $10/btc versus $300/btc today. The article was titled: Bitcoin: A Way to Fight Back Against the Financial Terrorists?
January 20, 2014
Back when Google was first getting started, there were plenty of skeptics who didn’t think a list of links could ever turn a profit. That was before advertising came along and gave Google a way to pay its bills — and then some, as it turned out. Thanks in part to that fortuitous accident, in today’s Internet market, advertising isn’t just an also-ran with new technologies: Marketers are bending innovation to their needs as startups chase prospective revenue streams.
A handful of companies are developing algorithms that can read the human emotions behind nuanced and fleeting facial expressions to maximize advertising and market research campaigns. Major corporations including Procter & Gamble, PepsiCo, Unilever, Nokia and eBay have already used the services.
Companies building the emotion-detecting algorithms include California-based Emotient, which released its product Facet this summer, Massachusetts-based Affectiva which will debut Affdex in early 2014, and U.K.-based Realeyes, which has been moving into emotion-detection since launching in 2006 as provider of eye-movement user-experience research.
They’ve all developed the ability to identify emotions by taking massive data sets — videos of people reacting to content — and putting them through machine learning systems. (The startups have built on a system of coding facial expressions developed in the 1970s for humans to carry out.) Machine learning is the most straightforward approach to artificial intelligence, but it’s mostly limited to deductive reasoning and isn’t likely to give rise to nuanced artificial intelligence.
Yet, with the ability to capture, in video freeze-frame, fleeting expressions that are too quick for a human to definitively identify, the algorithms may already be smart enough to provide more information on what people are thinking than has ever before been available.
“The unguarded expressions that flit across our faces aren’t always the ones we want other people to readily identify. We rely to some extent on the transience of those facial expressions,” Ginger McCall, a lawyer and privacy advocate based in Washington, D.C.,told the New York Times recently.
Here’s how the systems work. Facet breaks facial expressions down into 44 distinct movements. Emotient, a University of California San Diego spinoff, says its algorithm can identify joy, sadness, anger, surprise, fear, disgust and contempt. It offers its service as a software development kit, or SDK, for others to use in their apps. For instance, a video game could pick up the pace if the player appears bored.
Affdex is a cloud-based software application that subscribers interact with using a dashboard that allows them to generate reports, export data and bookmark videos. It identifies both emotions and the intensity of the user’s attention.
Affdex originated with academic research founder Rana el Kaliouby conducted into autism. Those affected by autism can’t recognize emotion in human expressions the way most people can, and el Kaliouby first sought to use emotion-labeling computers to assist autistic patients. Marketers quickly saw the utility of the system for them and el Kaliouby spun off a company.
Realeyes relies on similar algorithms, but the company recruits viewers who fall within a particular target audience to vet the content. (See more coverage here.) As a result, it takes 48 hours to get results, whereas the other services are offered in real-time.
In addition to the advertising arms race to deliver the most “relevant” content to bleary-eyed web surfers, the presence of a webcam on nearly every laptop and mobile device has propelled this use of artificial intelligence. Not all of those webcams provide an image clear enough for the algorithms to decode, but the companies are betting on continued improvements.
We’ve all heard about webcams being hijacked — could this technology be used on unsuspecting users? That depends. It is ostensibly illegal to record an unwitting user via webcam, but that doesn’t make it impossible.
“It would be very difficult for the companies to ensure consent of third parties, especially if the technology becomes mobile — that is, if it is used as part of a mobile application. We’ve already seen instances where similar technology has been used in televisions without consumer consent,” privacy advocate McCall told Singularity Hub.
And if a mounted camera on private property did the recording, emotion detection would likely be legal. Job interviews may have just gotten a lot harder — just be careful not to frown.
January 21, 2014
Microsoft tried to pay various YouTube account holders to post positive reviews related to the Xbox One, Ars Technica reports.
Microsoft, however, tells Business Insider that it’s not conducting payola scheme on YouTube.
Video partners of Machinima were allegedly offered a premium of $3 for every thousand views on video segments, which included 30 seconds of material praising the entertainment console.
December 20, 2013
Never let it be said that AT&T and Verizon don’t follow each other’s leads. Just one day after Verizon announced it would start publishing a semiannual transparency report that details all of the law enforcement requests it receives, AT&T announced that it would being doing the same in early 2014. The carrier’s report will include info on the total number of law-enforcement data requests received from the government in criminal cases, the number of subpoenas, court orders, and warrants received, and the total number of customers affected. The first report issued should cover all of the requests from 2013.
AT&T also reiterated that it ensures all data requests and its responses are “completely lawful and proper in that country” and that it doesn’t allow the government direct connections or access to its network or customer information. However, AT&T also noted that it believes “any disclosures regarding classified information should come from the government.” That’s not exactly a surprise, as the carrier is legally prevented from detailing requests that come from FISA warrants or National Security Letters, which the NSA and DHS commonly use.
January 30, 2014
A Boston startup has introduced the first 3D printer capable of printing in carbon fiber, the super-strong and lightweight material used in race cars and space shuttles. After a year of stealth development, the Mark One printer from Mark Forged was unveiled at the SolidWorks 3D-printing expo this week and is expected to retail for just $5,000.
The desktop printer is also capable of printing in fiberglass, nylon, and the thermoplastic PLA, as well as a composite of these materials with layers of carbon fiber added for strength. Mark Forged says it will be useful in building stronger prototypes as well as “prosthetics, custom bones, tools, and fixtures.”
Another engineering and design shop, Portland, OR-based ProtoPlant, is working on a Kickstarter-funded printer that can print in carbon fiber-reinforced filament. The Mark One appears to be the only printer capable of making objects made entirely of carbon fiber, however.
December 13, 2013
It’s not difficult to understand the appeal of Wi-Fi. This revolutionary technology, which has been commercially available since 1999, eliminates cabling and wiring for computers, reduces cellular usage charges and allows us to connect to the Internet from anywhere with a signal. Despite these benefits, however, studies continue to show that the radiation generated by wireless routers is negatively affecting our health. In fact, the British activist website Stop Smart Meters recently published a list of 34 scientific studies demonstrating the adverse biological effects of Wi-Fi exposure, including studies linking it to headaches, reduced sperm count and oxidative stress.
The latest research into the dangers of Wi-Fi, though, comes from a surprisingly humble source: Five ninth grade female students from Denmark, whose science experiment revealed that wireless radiation is equally as devastating to plants.
The experiment began when the five students realized that they had difficulty concentrating in school if they slept near their mobile phones the previous night. Intrigued by this phenomenon, the students endeavored to study the effects of cellphone radiation on humans. Unfortunately, their school prevented them from pursuing this experiment due to a lack of resources, so the students decided to test the effects of Wi-Fi radiation (comparable in strength to cellphone radiation) on a plant instead.
The girls placed six trays of Lepidium sativum seeds (a garden cress grown commercially throughout Europe) in a room without radiation, and an equal amount in a room next to two Wi-Fi routers. Over a 12-day period, they observed, measured, weighed and photographed the results. Even before the 12th day arrived, however, the end results were obvious: The cress seeds placed near the routers either hadn’t grown or were completely dead, while the seeds placed in the radiation-free room had blossomed into healthy plants.
The experiment earned the five students top honors in a regional science competition. Moreover, according to a teacher at their school, Kim Horsevad, a professor of neuroscience at the Karolinska Institute in Sweden was so impressed with the experiment that he is interested in repeating it in a controlled scientific environment.
You can help reduce your exposure to Wi-Fi radiation by following the advice in this article.
Sources for this article include:
December 13, 2013
Meet Mike Caldwell. He is the maker of what seems to be the most popular physical bitcoins on the market, the Casascius coin. All Mr. Caldwell does is have people who want the coins produced send him a certain quantity of bitcoin and then for a $50 fee he puts the private key on a physical coin and sends them back.
For this horrible crime of ingenuity and creativity, the U.S. government naturally, has decided to target him. Because they are too busy ignoring the real financial crimes happening out out there…
Mike Caldwell spent years turning digital currency into physical coins. That may sound like a paradox. But it’s true. He takes bitcoins — the world’s most popular digital currency — and then he mints them here in the physical world. If you added up all the bitcoins Caldwell has minted on behalf of his customers, they would be worth about $82 million.
Basically, these physical bitcoins are novelty items. But by moving the digital currency into the physical realm, he also prevents hackers from stealing the stuff via an online attack. Or at least he did. His run as the premiere bitcoin minter may be at an end. Caldwell has been put on notice by the feds.
Just before Thanksgiving, he says, he received a letter from the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, or FINCEN, the arm of the Treasury Department that dictates how the nation’s anti-money-laundering and financial crime regulations are interpreted. According to FINCEN, Caldwell needs to rethink his business. “They considered my activity to be money transmitting,” Caldwell says. And if you want to transmit money, you must first jump through a lot of state and federal regulatory hoops Caldwell hasn’t jumped through.
But HSBC launders billions for Mexican drug cartels and they can continue their operations no problem.
Caldwell doesn’t accept U.S. dollars or any type of fiat currency. You send him bitcoins via the internet, and he sends you back metal coins via the U.S. Postal Service. To spend bitcoins, you need a secret digital key — a string of numbers and letters — and when Caldwell makes the coins, he hides this key behind a tamper-resistant strip.
So long as you can keep your Casascius bitcoins safe, nobody can learn the key. To date, Caldwell has minted nearly 90,000 bitcoins in various denominations. That’s worth about $82 million at today’s exchange rate.
Because he runs a bitcoin-only business, Caldwell says there’s no Casascius bank account for authorities to seize. But he adds that he has no desire to anger the feds, whether he agrees with them or not. So he’s cranking out his last few orders and talking to his lawyer. He says this may spell the end of Casascius coins. “It’s possible. I haven’t come to a final conclusion,” he says.
What a complete and total joke this government is. Don’t they have anything better to do?
Full article here.
January 6, 2014
The General Motors division said Sunday it would deploy fourth generation (4G) Internet connections on several models to help motorists who want to stay connected with the growing number of apps for automobiles.
Chevy will allow the 4G connections with Long Term Evolution (LTE) in a partnership with AT&T.
December 30, 2013
A top-secret National Security Agency hacking unit infiltrates computers around the world and breaks into the toughest data targets, according to internal documents quoted in a magazine report on Sunday.
Details of how the division, known as Tailored Access Operations (TAO), steals data and inserts invisible “back door” spying devices into computer systems were published by the German magazine Der Spiegel.
The magazine portrayed TAO as an elite team of hackers specializing in gaining undetected access to intelligence targets that have proved the toughest to penetrate through other spying techniques, and described its overall mission as “getting the ungettable.” The report quoted an official saying that the unit’s operations have obtained “some of the most significant intelligence our country has ever seen.”
January 23, 2014
Boosting his credentials as a moderniser, Pope Francis has called the internet a “gift from God” in a statement released on Thursday.
In a message on Catholic Church communications, the pontiff wrote of the pros and cons of the digital age, and its implications for Catholics when interacting with people from different faiths and backgrounds.
While praising the internet for the “immense possibilities” it offers to encounter people from different backgrounds, he also warned that the obsessive desire to stay connected can actually isolate people from their friends and family.
December 16, 2013
Facebook knows pretty much everything about you — and that includes when you type out posts but decide not to hit “enter.”
But before you freak out too much, know that Facebook isn’t saving the text of these would-be posts (at least not yet). For now, Facebook is merely tracking more general trends related to these unpublished thoughts — or, as Facebook calls it, “self-censorship.”
Sauvik Das, a Ph.D. student at Carnegie Mellon and summer software engineer intern at Facebook, and Adam Kramer, a Facebook data scientist, shared insights into how the social network monitors these posts in a recent paper, Slate reports. Their study, available in full online, collects data from 5 million English-speaking Facebook users, focusing on status updates, posts on other people’s timelines, and comments on posts. Anything you type — even if you don’t hit “post” — becomes metadata that gets sent back to Facebook.
January 1, 2014
Decision Dismisses ACLU Lawsuit Challenging DHS Search Policy as Unconstitutional
December 31, 2013
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CONTACT: 212-549-2666, email@example.com
BROOKLYN – A federal court today dismissed a lawsuit arguing that the government should not be able to search and copy people’s laptops, cell phones, and other devices at border checkpoints without reasonable suspicion. An appeal is being considered. Government documents show that thousands of innocent American citizens are searched when they return from trips abroad.
“We’re disappointed in today’s decision, which allows the government to conduct intrusive searches of Americans’ laptops and other electronics at the border without any suspicion that those devices contain evidence of wrongdoing,” said Catherine Crump, the American Civil Liberties Union attorney who argued the case in July 2011. “Suspicionless searches of devices containing vast amounts of personal information cannot meet the standard set by the Fourth Amendment, which prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures. Unfortunately, these searches are part of a broader pattern of aggressive government surveillance that collects information on too many innocent people, under lax standards, and without adequate oversight.”
The ACLU, the New York Civil Liberties Union, and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers filed the lawsuit in September 2010 against the Department of Homeland Security. DHS asserts the right to look though the contents of a traveler’s electronic devices, and to keep the devices or copy the contents in order to continue searching them once the traveler has been allowed to enter the U.S., regardless of whether the traveler is suspected of any wrongdoing.
The lawsuit was filed on behalf of Pascal Abidor, a dual French-American citizen who had his laptop searched and confiscated at the Canadian border; the National Press Photographers Association, whose members include television and still photographers, editors, students and representatives of the photojournalism industry; and the NACDL, which has attorney members in 25 countries.
Abidor was travelling from Montreal to New York on an Amtrak train in May 2010 when he had his laptop searched and confiscated by customs officers. Abidor, an Islamic Studies Ph.D. student at McGill University, was questioned, taken off the train in handcuffs, and held in a cell for several hours before being released without charge. When his laptop was returned 11 days later, there was evidence that many of his personal files had been searched, including photos and chats with his girlfriend.
In June, in response to an ACLU Freedom of Information Act request, DHS released its December 2011 Civil Rights/Civil Liberties Impact Assessment of its electronics search policy, concluding that suspicionless searches do not violate the First or Fourth Amendments. The report said that a reasonable suspicion standard is inadvisable because it could lead to litigation and the forced divulgence of national security information, and would prevent border officers from acting on inchoate “hunches,” a method that it says has sometimes proved fruitful.
Today’s ruling is available at:
January 31, 2014
Technology has the potential to augment, improve and even replace every aspect of our body, from our vital organs to our legs.
A new remake of the movie RoboCop (out February 12) shows us a future where technology and humans become one – but experts say the age of the cyborg is already upon us.
With everything from smart contact lenses that could improve our vision to exoskeletons that give us superhuman strength, cyborgs are set to become a big part of our future.
December 17, 2013
Big Dog is capable of many things of interest to its new owners at Google. What remains to be seen is whether the quadruped robot’s ability to pick up a breeze block and hurl it across a warehouse with impressive dexterity and speed is among them.
The computer search giant has completed the purchase of Boston Dynamics, the maker of a cutting-edge menagerie of walking and crawling robots including Big Dog, which counts America’s Department of Defense (DoD) among its major sources of income.
The robotics firm is the eighth company in the same field to be snapped up by Google in the last six months under a project headed by Andy Rubin, the executive responsible for turning Android into the world’s most widely used smartphone software and whose first love is robots. Mr Rubin, an engineer by training, last week used Twitter to declare that “The future is looking awesome!”.
February 8, 2014
The Pentagon is exploring the development of implantable probes that may one day help reverse some memory loss caused by brain injury.
The goal of the project, still in early stages, is to treat some of the more than 280,000 troops who have suffered brain injuries since 2000, including in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is focused on wounded veterans, though some research may benefit others such as seniors with dementia or athletes with brain injuries, said Geoff Ling, a physician and deputy director of Darpa’s Defense Sciences office. It’s still far from certain that such work will result in an anti-memory-loss device. Still, word of the project is creating excitement after more than a decade of failed attempts to develop drugs to treat brain injury and memory loss.
The American Dream
October 30, 2013
Would you like to surf the Internet, make a phone call or send a text message using only your brain? Would you like to “download” the content of a 500 page book into your memory in less than a second? Would you like to have extremely advanced nanobots constantly crawling around in your body monitoring it for disease? Would you like to be able to instantly access the collective knowledge base of humanity wherever you are?
All of that may sound like science fiction, but these are technologies that some of the most powerful high tech firms in the world actually believe are achievable by the year 2020. However, with all of the potential “benefits” that such technology could bring, there is also the potential for great tyranny. Just think about it. What do you think that the governments of the world could do if almost everyone had a mind reading brain implant that was connected to the Internet? Could those implants be used to control and manipulate us? Those are frightening things to consider.
For now, most of the scientists that are working on brain implant technology do not seem to be too worried about those kinds of concerns. Instead, they are pressing ahead into realms that were once considered to be impossible.
Right now, there are approximately 100,000 people around the world that have implants in their brains. Most of those are for medical reasons.
But this is just the beginning. According to the Boston Globe, the U.S. government plans “to spend more than $70 million over five years to jump to the next level of brain implants”.
This new project is being called the Systems-Based Neurotechnology for Emerging Therapies (SUBNETS), and the goal is to be able to monitor the “mental health” of soldiers and veterans. The following is how a recent CNET article described SUBNETS…
SUBNETS is inspired by Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS), a surgical treatment that involves implanting a brain pacemaker in the patient’s skull to interfere with brain activity to help with symptoms of diseases like epilepsy and Parkinson’s. DARPA’s device will be similar, but rather than targeting one specific symptom, it will be able to monitor and analyse data in real time and issue a specific intervention according to brain activity.
This kind of technology is being developed by the private sector as well. In fact, according to Scientific American scientists are becoming increasingly excited about how brain implants can be used to “reboot” the brains of people with depression…
Psychological depression is more than an emotional state. Good evidence for that comes from emerging new uses for a technology already widely prescribed for Parkinson’s patients. The more neurologists and surgeons learn about the aptly named deep brain stimulation, the more they are convinced that the currents from the technology’s implanted electrodes can literally reboot brain circuits involved with the mood disorder.
Would you like to have your brain “rebooted” by a chip inside your head?
And of course this is how brain implants will be marketed to the public at first. They will be sold as something that has great “health benefits”. For example, one firm has developed a brain implant that can detect and treat epileptic seizures…
The NeuroPace RNS is the first implant to listen to brain waves and autonomously decide when to apply a therapy to prevent an epileptic seizure. It was developed by a company with a staff of less than 90 people, only about 30 on the core electronic, mechanical, and software engineering teams.
A different team of researchers has discovered that it can stimulate the repair of brain tissue in rats using brain implants…
Stroke and Parkinson’s Disease patients may benefit from a controversial experiment that implanted microchips into lab rats. Scientists say the tests produced effective results in brain damage research.
Rats showed motor function in formerly damaged gray matter after a neural microchip was implanted under the rat’s skull and electrodes were transferred to the rat’s brain. Without the microchip, rats with damaged brain tissue did not have motor function. Both strokes and Parkinson’s can cause permanent neurological damage to brain tissue, so this scientific research brings hope.
Most of us won’t need brain implants for medical reasons though.
So how will they be marketed to the rest of us?
Well, what if you were told that they could give you “super powers”?
Would you want a brain implant then?
The following is a short excerpt from a recent Scientific American article…
Our world is determined by the limits of our five senses. We can’t hear pitches that are too high or low, nor can we see ultraviolet or infrared light—even though these phenomena are not fundamentally different from the sounds and sights that our ears and eyes can detect. But what if it were possible to widen our sensory boundaries beyond the physical limitations of our anatomy? In a study published recently inNature Communications, scientists used brain implants to teach rats to “see” infrared light, which they usually find invisible. The implications are tremendous: if the brain is so flexible it can learn to process novel sensory signals, people could one day feel touch through prosthetic limbs, see heat via infrared light or even develop a sixth sense for magnetic north.
And some very prominent Internet firms simply take it for granted that most of us will eventually have brain implants that connect us directly to the Internet…
Google has a plan. Eventually it wants to get into your brain. “When you think about something and don’t really know much about it, you will automatically get information,” Google CEO Larry Page said in Steven Levy’s book, “In the Plex: How Google Thinks, Works and Shapes Our Lives.” “Eventually you’ll have an implant, where if you think about a fact, it will just tell you the answer.”
At this point you might be thinking that this will never happen because getting a brain implant is a very complicated and expensive procedure.
Well, according to an article in the Wall Street Journal, that is not actually true. In fact, the typical procedure is very quick and often only requires just an overnight stay in the hospital…
Neural implants, also called brain implants, are medical devices designed to be placed under the skull, on the surface of the brain. Often as small as an aspirin, implants use thin metal electrodes to “listen” to brain activity and in some cases to stimulate activity in the brain. Attuned to the activity between neurons, a neural implant can essentially “listen” to your brain activity and then “talk” directly to your brain.
If that prospect makes you queasy, you may be surprised to learn that the installation of a neural implant is relatively simple and fast. Under anesthesia, an incision is made in the scalp, a hole is drilled in the skull, and the device is placed on the surface of the brain. Diagnostic communication with the device can take place wirelessly. When it is not an outpatient procedure, patients typically require only an overnight stay at the hospital.
In the future, the minds of most people could potentially be connected to the Internet 24 hours a day. Imagine sending an email or answering your phone by just thinking about it. According to the New York Times, this is where we are eventually heading…
Soon, we might interact with our smartphones and computers simply by using our minds. In a couple of years, we could be turning on the lights at home just by thinking about it, or sending an e-mail from our smartphone without even pulling the device from our pocket. Farther into the future, your robot assistant will appear by your side with a glass of lemonade simply because it knows you are thirsty.
Researchers in Samsung’s Emerging Technology Lab are testing tablets that can be controlled by your brain, using a cap that resembles a ski hat studded with monitoring electrodes, the MIT Technology Review, the science and technology journal of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, reported this month.
The technology, often called a brain computer interface, was conceived to enable people with paralysis and other disabilities to interact with computers or control robotic arms, all by simply thinking about such actions. Before long, these technologies could well be in consumer electronics, too.
So how far away is such technology?
According to a Computer World UK article, Intel believes that they will have Internet-connected brain implants in people’s heads by the year 2020…
By the year 2020, you won’t need a keyboard and mouse to control your computer, say Intel researchers. Instead, users will open documents and surf the web using nothing more than their brain waves.
Scientists at Intel’s research lab in Pittsburgh are working to find ways to read and harness human brain waves so they can be used to operate computers, television sets and cell phones. The brain waves would be harnessed with Intel-developed sensors implanted in people’s brains.
The scientists say the plan is not a scene from a sci-fi movie, Big Brother won’t be planting chips in your brain against your will. Researchers expect that consumers will want the freedom they will gain by using the implant.
And that would only be the tip of the iceberg. Futurist Ray Kurzweil is actually convinced that we will all eventually have hordes of nanobots running around our bodies monitoring our health and looking for disease…
‘Bridge two (is) the biotechnology revolution, where we can reprogram biology away from disease.
‘And that is not the end-all either.
‘Bridge three is to go beyond biology, to the nanotechnology revolution.
‘At that point we can have little robots, sometimes called nanobots, that augment your immune system.
‘We can create an immune system that recognizes all disease, and if a new disease emerged, it could be reprogrammed to deal with new pathogens.’
Such robots, according to Kurzweil, will help fight diseases, improve health and allow people to remain active for longer.
Are you ready for this kind of a future?
These technologies are being developed right now, and they will be enthusiastically adopted by a large segment of the general public.
At some point in the future, having a brain implant may be as common as it is to use a smart phone today.
And of course the mainstream media will be telling all of us how wonderful it is to have a brain implant. If you doubt this, just check out the following NBC News report where we are all told that we can expect to have microchip implants by the year 2017…
So are you ready for this brave new world?
Will you ever let them put a chip in your head?
February 8, 2014
Last November, Ross Ulbricht’s lawyer Joshua Dratel told reporters only hours after first meeting his client that he planned to show that Ulbricht is not the “Dread Pirate Roberts” who created the Silk Road anonymous drug sales site. It seems he wasn’t bluffing.
On Friday, Ulbricht pleaded “not guilty” in a Manhattan court to all charges that he created and managed the Silk Road, the world’s most popular anonymous, Bitcoin-based digital black market for drugs. Those charges, which were formally levied against Ulbricht on Tuesday, claim that he conspired to traffic in narcotics, hack computers, and launder money, as well as that he engaged in a “continuing criminal enterprise,” a charge sometimes called the “kingpin statute,” often aimed at mafia and cartel bosses.
December 27, 2013
Despite global efforts to curb copyright infringement, the temptation to use BitTorrent sites to download free movies and TV shows is too strong for employees in the EU Parliament, the Vatican, the US House of Representatives, and some Hollywood studios.
The new information was revealed by TorrentFreak, which used a tracking outfit called ScanEye to identify those illegally downloading files in some rather surprising places.
The website reported that EU Parliament employees have shown keen interest in downloading pirated movies and TV shows while at work. Dozens of recent “hits” entered from EU Parliament IP addresses on several BitTorrent trackers revealed that employees have downloaded pirated versions of new movies such as ‘Elysium’ and ‘Monsters vs. Aliens.’ They also appear to be fans of classic flicks such as ‘The Ten Commandments,’ as well as popular television shows such as ‘Breaking Bad.’
The same illegal activity also made its way into the Vatican, with movies such as ‘Billy Elliot’ being downloaded along with TV series such as ‘Camp.’
Even some Hollywood studios – including Paramount Pictures – made it on the list, with employees illegally downloading ‘Shame’ and ‘Mad Men.’
BitTorrent downloads also took place from inside the US House of Representatives. Television drama ‘Sons of Anarchy’ was downloaded from the premises, although TorrentFreak did note that fewer hits came from the House in 2013 than in previous years.
This comes even despite US lawmakers’ efforts to crack down on copyright infringement by introducing the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) in October 2011. The act proposed to broaden the government’s right to fight online copyright infringement and the trading of counterfeit goods.
The proposal included the introduction of court orders to ban advertising networks and payment facilities from doing business with infringing websites. It also aimed to prohibit search engines from linking to such websites, and requested that ISPs block access to the websites.
Many internet users and organizations heavily criticized the proposal. On January 18, 2012, more than 7,000 websites – including Wikipedia, Reddit, and Google – took part in an internet blackout to protest against SOPA. The act was shelved indefinitely just days after the action. The House Judiciary Committee eventually postponed consideration of the legislation.
The fight against illegal downloads continues across the globe. The world’s biggest torrent site, The Pirate Bay, has repeatedly been forced to change its domain due to multiple terminations of its former web addresses.
In November, the Supreme Court of Belgium ordered ISPs throughout the nation to begin proactive efforts to search and censor proxy services for The Pirate Bay.
Earlier this month – just one day after The Pirate Bay moved its domain to Guyana – the website was informed that it was being “immediately suspended.” The site then chose to move to Sweden’s .SE domain, which it initially left in the first place, following legal threats.
January 1, 2014
The phone numbers and usernames of more than 4.6 million North American Snapchat users have been leaked online. SnapchatDB, an unofficial site run by an anonymous individual or group, allows open access to two files — one an SQL dump, one CSV text — that show details of the photo-sharing app’s users alongside their location.
The final two digits of phone numbers have been censored “to minimize spam and abuse,” but SnapchatDB says people should “feel free” to contact it for the uncensored database, as it may release it under certain circumstances. Usernames are presented unedited, and SnapchatDB notes that “people tend to use the same username around the web.”
Those that download the information, it says, can try to “find phone number information associated with Facebook and Twitter accounts, or simply to figure out the phone numbers of people you wish to get in touch with.”
January 18, 2014
According to a news release from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, synthetic self-propelled swimming bio-bots just entered the strange world of aquatic micro-organisms.
Engineers have created a class of small bio-hybrid machines that move like sperm, the first synthetic structures that can negotiate the viscous fluids of biological environments unsupervised.
“Micro-organisms have a whole world that we only glimpse through the microscope,” noted Taher Saif, the University of Illinois Gutgsell Professor of mechanical science and engineering, in a statement. “This is the first time that an engineered system has reached this underworld.”
December 24, 2013
The Obama administration is spending billions of dollars to modernize the nation’s power grid, with the goal of changing the way Americans use energy. Your electric bill will go way up, unless you allow the utility to control your energy load at times of peak demand.
“Smart grid” technology involves a wireless, two-way flow of information between individual homes and the power plant. This allows the utility to charge more for electricity, depending on when it is used; and it enables the utility to manage energy for the consumer, to reduce the impact on the grid.
For example, customers eventually will be able to program their “smart” appliances and thermostats so the utility company can turn them off at times of peak electricity usage.
December 23, 2013
The Google-owned Japanese robotics company SCHAFT has won the DARPA Robotics Challenge Trials by a wide margin. It scored 27 out of 32 points, beating its nearest competitor IHMC Robotics by seven points. Coming up third was Tartan rescue with 18 points, and MIT following that with 16 points.
The contest took place Dec. 20-21 at the Homestead-Miami Speedway, where 16 teams from around the world did their best to guide their robots through a series of tasks. The robots were to be programmed in such a way that they could be guided by simple commands issued by a non-expert, e.g., “Open the door” or “Clear away the debris in front of you.”
The object of the challenge, DARPA says, was to create a robot that could stand in for humans in disaster and emergency zones. In all, eight tasks were included: drive a vehicle; walk across rubble; remove debris; open a door and walk through it; climb a ladder and cross an industrial walkway; break a concrete panel with a tool made for humans; find and close a valve; and connect a fire hose to a pipe and open the valve.
December 30, 2013
The U.S. space agency NASA is developing Super Ball Bots — a new type of robotic explorer that is shaped like a wire mesh ball — which it hopes to be able to explore the outer solar system and beyond.
One of the more daunting phases of the exploration of planets, moons, and other celestial bodies is the landing on such bodies. Landing is dangerous, complex, and often times unsuccessful.
However, NASA is developing an unusual type of explorer that minimizes the complexity of landings and maximizes the chance for success. A Super Ball Bot has been described as “a jumble of tent poles”.
December 20, 2013
Here’s what we all long to see — a robot crawling along the ceiling.
That may or may not give you goosebumps. But if you’re an engineer, a magnetic wall-crawler developed at Osaka City University in Japan could prove useful when inspecting bridges and other structures.
The awkwardly named Bridge Inspection Robot Equipping Magnets (BIREM) can move as fast as 7.8 inches per second. Imagine that skittering up your wall.
January 21, 2014
Add to guns and prosthetic hands something much bigger and heavier forming from the nozzle of a 3D printer — buildings “printed” out of concrete.
Partially funded by the Office of Naval Research and the National Science Foundation Countour Crafting is trying to develop 3D printed buildings using concrete. Company founder Behrokh Khoshnevis is a professor and director of Manufacturing Engineering Graduate Program at the University of Southern California.
Concrete printers would be able to build a 2,500-square-foot building within a single day, according to Khoshnevis.
November 6, 2013
As the author of the insightful, prophetic book “1984,” even George Orwell’s discussed “surveillance society” wasn’t so sinister as to include kitchen appliances. But thanks to the continued miniaturization of technology, snooping devices and those designed to disrupt wireless operations are proliferating at an unbelievable pace.
According to Britain’s Daily Mail, Russian investigators say they have discovered hidden microchips in Chinese-made household appliances that have been imported into the country, designed to transmit spam and other malware into wireless networks.
The paper said officials in St. Petersburg claim to have discovered 20 to 30 kettles and irons that contained “spy chips that send some data to the Foreign Service,” Russian media reported.
It’s not been a good year for Russia and espionage; word of the Chinese chips comes as the European Union launched an investigation into claims that Moscow had bugged gifts it sent to delegates at last month’s G20 summit, in a bid to steal data from computers and cell phones.
‘Spambots’ and ‘spybots’
As reported by the Daily Mail:
This has led to speculation that the chips allegedly found in the home appliances may also have the ability to steal data and send it back to Chinese servers.
The allegations against the Chinese were made in St Petersburg news outlet Rosbalt, which quotes a source from customs broker Panimport, but does not detail what data was being sent or to where.
A separate report by another British news website, The Register, which translated the Russian story, says it’s possible to build a malicious microchip, which is sometimes called a spambot or a spybot, that is small enough to hide in a kettle.
The Register believes the Russian story:
A bit of digging suggests it is legitimate. One source the story mentions, Gleb Pavlov of customs broker Panimport, can be found at the link we’ve popped in on the company’s name. We’ve also been able to find this link to an appliances company called “Sable Ltd”, the very name translation engines say is the employer of one Innokenty Fedorov whose company found the bugged appliances.
The reports also suggest there are a number of available transformers which could convert Russia’s 220V electricity supply system to power the chips without hurting them.
But The Register casts some doubt on claims that the bots were discovered because they were overweight, because it’s not likely that the difference of a few grams would have been enough to arouse customs suspicion.
If the appliances were shipped by air, then that might be possible, but that probably wasn’t the case, because the items in question were not very expensive.
As to Russia’s alleged espionage, the EU has begun an investigation of gifts that were given to visiting delegations at an August G20 summit in St. Petersburg. Delegates from the world’s top 20 economies met there.
Spying, spying and more spying
More from the Daily Mail:
European Commission spokesman Frederic Vincent said that experts were looking into the handouts, which included USB sticks and were given out at the Group of 20 summit, but said ‘analysis of hardware and software have not amounted to any serious security concerns.’ He added the investigation had not yet been fully completed.
Newspapers in Italy reported recently on allegations that Moscow tried to spy on participants of the G20 summit by handing out free tech gear like USB memory sticks and mobile phone chargers which, once activated or plugged in, would infect computers with spyware.
Other appliances have been causing concern to privacy advocates – among them, so-called “smart TVs.”
Techies have warned that the TVs are vulnerable to hacking, just like a laptop or other Wi-Fi device, and, as such, could be used to steal your personal data or even “watch you.”
January 1, 2014
Federal officials will decided in the “coming weeks” whether to require new cars to include smart technology that would alert drivers of a coming crash, even in vehicles that are two or three cars away.
The vehicle-to-vehicle — or V2V — technology has undergone testing in recent years and has already been installed in some cars that are on the road.
A recent study by the Government Accountability Office determined that if the gizmos were widely deployed, “V2V technologies could provide warnings to drivers in as much as 76 percent of potential multi-vehicle collisions.”
Samantha Murhpy Kelly
February 11, 2014
Amazon drones may make quick deliveries to your house in the future, but the United Arab Emirates government is looking to add similar technology to its skies much sooner — within a year.
The UAE government detailed a prototype of a drone that would deliver official packages and personal documents such as driver’s licenses and ID cards right to citizen doorsteps, per a Reuters report on Monday. To keep the cargo secure, the drones would be equipped with fingerprint and retina scanners to make sure they are delivering to the correct recipients.
“The UAE will try to deliver its government services through drones. This is the first project of its kind in the world,” said Mohammed Abdullah Al Gergawi, the Minister of Cabinet Affairs in the UAE government, according to Reuters.
Adam Clark Estes
January 28, 2014
If you had any faith left in anonymous email services, now would be the time to let that go. New court documents show that in chasing down associates of Freedom Hosting, the FBI managed to download the entire email database of TorMail. And now it’s using that information to take on the Darknet.
Just over a month after reports of a malware attack on the anonymous Tor network, the FBI told an Irish court that it was behind the shenanigans. But … Read…
It’s unknown exactly how many users or how much data is in the TorMail network, but we do know that the FBI has it all. The agency obtained a search warrant for a TorMail account connected to a Florida man accused of stealing credit card numbers in order to search its own copy of the database. It appears that the FBI acquired the database while using malware to investigate Freedom Hosting last year. As Wired put it:
The tactic suggests the FBI is adapting to the age of big-data with an NSA-style collect-everything approach, gathering information into a virtual lock box, and leaving it there until it can obtain specific authority to tap it later.
In the past six months, we’ve learned that the FBI’s using malware to expose the anonymous internet and the NSA’s been going after Tor for years. And now it seems that federal authorities have been successful in breaking down the wall of anonymity that kept the internet safe for a lot of users. We’ve also learned that despite his advisors’ recommendations, President Obama is content continuing the bulk collection of data that drew scrutiny to the NSA in the first place, albeit in a different form. And so while Tor and its related services are still good for a lot of things, anonymity is apparently no longer one of them.
January 7, 2013
One of the more impressive parts of Intel CEO Brian Krzanich’s keynote address at CES, the giant consumer elecronics show in Las Vegas, was when he talked about the company’s development of Edison, a PC processor small enought to fit into the palm of your hand.
Intel specializes in making small, powerful processors, of course.
But Krzanich described Edison as a “full, Pentium-class PC in the form-factor of an SD card. That’s all the space you need,” he said.
Mathew J. Schwartz
November 25, 2013
The National Security Agency (NSA) has hacked into more than 50,000 PCs to install malware that monitors US government targets.
So said a report, published Saturday by Dutch newspaper NRC Handelsblad, that included a top secret NSA presentation that dates from 2012. The newspaper said the document was furnished by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.
The leaked presentation, which is labeled as restricted for dissemination to the United States, Australia, Canada, Great Britain, and New Zealand — the countries that comprise the “five eyes” surveillance network — highlights the NSA’s “classes of access,” which include third-party agreements or liaisons with 30 countries and 20 high-speed optical cable access programs, and the ability to eavesdrop on 12 foreign and 40 regional satellites.
William F. Jasper
December 24, 2013
Reddit, the giant aggregator of social, political, and entertainment news, which boasts that it is “the front page of the Internet,” is taking flak for announcing that it now bans all climate “deniers” from its science forum.
In a December 16 posting on the left-liberal Grist website (a George Soros-funded website), Reddit science “moderator” (now self-professed censor) Nathan Allen announced that the Reddit science forum would no longer allow postings from those who challenge the increasingly discredited notion that manmade carbon-dioxide is causing a global warming existential threat to the planet.
Allen’s essay, entitled “Reddit’s science forum banned climate deniers. Why don’t all newspapers do the same?”, obviously hopes to spark a wave of official, explicit bans at other media outlets. Of course, most of the so-called mainstream media already employ de facto censorship of the realist/skeptic position in their “climate change” coverage, and have for many years. While they heap lavish, adoring coverage on fanatical climate “scientists” such as James Hansen and Michael Mann, and non-scientist activist celebrities such as Al Gore, George Clooney, Leonardo DiCaprio, Bono, and Madonna, the mainstream media (MSM) can be counted on to ignore or vilify the thousands of genuine scientists who contradict the carefully crafted false claim of a “scientific consensus” in favor of anthropogenic global warming (AGW). However, much of the MSM have gone beyond censoring the contrarian scientists out of their “news” stories and op-ed pages, going so far as to ban all letters-to-the-editor section that challenge the AGW dogma. The Los Angeles Times is one of the few major MSM organs that has publicly admitted it has a policy of refusing to print letters from climate “deniers.” The folks at Reddit, apparently, would be happy if all media outlets followed suit.
January 10, 2014
New year, same focus. The Republican led House of Representatives, in its first major action of the 2014 session, voted on another bill aimed at Obamacare – this one meant to fix what the GOP views as a serious security problem with the new health care website.
The House Friday passed a bill 291-122 to require the Administration to notify within two days anyone impacted by a security breach on HealthCare.gov, the website where Americans can enroll for insurance coverage.
All House GOP members backed the measure and 67 Democrats crossed the aisle and voted for the bill.
December 27, 2013
Once upon a time, money – in the form of precious metals – used to be literally dug out of the earth. Limitations on the amount that could be mined, and on how much growth could be borrowed from the future (all debt is, is future consumption denied), is why eventually the world’s central bankers moved from money backed by precious metals, to “money” backed by “faith and credit”, in the process diluting both. It was the unprecedented explosion in credit money creation that resulted once money could be “printed” out of thin air that nearly destroyed the western financial system. Which brings us to Bitcoin, where currency “mining” takes place not in the earth’s crust, or in the basement of the Federal Reserve, but inside supercomputers.
It is these supercomputers, that are the laborers of the virtual mines where Bitcoins are unearthed, that the NYT focuses on in a recent expose:
Bitcoins are invisible money, backed by no government, useful only as a speculative investment or online currency, but creating them commands a surprisingly hefty real-world infrastructure.
Instead of swinging pickaxes, these custom-built machines, which are running an open-source Bitcoin program, perform complex algorithms 24 hours a day. If they come up with the right answers before competitors around the world do, they win a block of 25 new Bitcoins from the virtual currency’s decentralized network. The network is programmed to release 21 million coins eventually. A little more than half are already out in the world, but because the system will release Bitcoins at a progressively slower rate, the work of mining could take more than 100 years.
As the following chart shows, in addition to the surge in the price of Bitcoin, another explosion witnessed recently is in the processing power of the Bitcoin network: from non-existent a couple of years ago, the “mining” power dedicated to hashing, or the calculations used to extract new Bitcoins, has risen to nearly 10 quadrillion per second!
So what do these supercomputer-populated mines look like? Below we look at two examples of just that.
* * *
First, we look at Hong Kong, where one of the largest Bitcoin mines in the world is located.
In an industrial backwater near Hong Kong’s massive port, one of Asia’s largest Bitcoin mines is quietly turning raw computing power into digital currency.
Located about eight miles from the city’s finance hub, the entire facility is no larger than a two-bedroom apartment. Aside from a small bathroom, the mine offers no creature comforts.
It is dominated by vertical racks that house hundreds of ASIC chips. Shorthand for application-specific integrated circuits, these chips are custom-built to mine bitcoins.
Chinese investors have been enthusiastic early adopters, a trend amplified by a lack of more traditional investment vehicles in the country.
Industrial bitcoin mines devote their massive amounts of computing power to working on the algorithm, and are rewarded with an equivalent share of bitcoins. Currently, a winner is rewarded with 25 bitcoins roughly every 10 minutes.
Miners are lured to Hong Kong because of its proximity to chipmakers in China and the city’s permissive regulatory environment.
This mine was purpose-built by Allied Control for clients based in China.
Kar-Wing Lau, Allied Control’s vice president of operations, said the mine is cheaper to run and more efficient than many others because it uses a technology called immersion cooling.
Heat sinks and fans are typically used to disperse the heat generated by massed ranks of computer chips, but this Hong Kong mine is liquid-cooled using a product developed by 3M.
The processors used in the mine were build specifically for mining. They have no other function. “These ASIC chips, they can mine bitcoins and do nothing else,” Lau said. “Given the pace of advancement, we need them to be constantly upgraded.”
Immersion cooling allows Allied Control to leave less space between the chips, which saves money that would otherwise be spent on rent.
The technology also cuts down on electricity use — one of the other major costs associated with Bitcoin mining. Lau wouldn’t reveal how much it cost to build the mine, but he said that electricity bills for a fully-operational mine of this size would typically exceed $50,000 per month.
“The real question from a business perspective is how efficiently you can run your mining operation,” Lau said.
Cooling, however, is only one of the key factors when determining Bitcoin “mine” placement. Another key one: access to cheap electricity, because those massive servers sure soak up a lot of electricity: electricity, whose costs can quickly add up once a parallel processing cluster gets big enough.
Which brings us to Bitcoin mega-mine #2 in Iceland.
It is here that the NYT goes searching for digital excavators used to procure the digital currency.
On the flat lava plain of Reykjanesbaer, Iceland, near the Arctic Circle, you can find the mines of Bitcoin.
To get there, you pass through a fortified gate and enter a featureless yellow building. After checking in with a guard behind bulletproof glass, you face four more security checkpoints, including a so-called man trap that allows passage only after the door behind you has shut. This brings you to the center of the operation, a fluorescent-lit room with more than 100 whirring silver computers, each in a locked cabinet and each cooled by blasts of Arctic air shot up from vents in the floor.
“What we have here are money-printing machines,” said Emmanuel Abiodun, 31, founder of the company that built the Iceland installation, shouting above the din of the computers. “We cannot risk that anyone will get to them.”
Mr. Abiodun is one of a number of entrepreneurs who have rushed, gold-fever style, into large-scale Bitcoin mining operations in just the last few months. All of these people are making enormous bets that Bitcoin will not collapse, as it has threatened to do several times.
Iceland’s low electric bill and its effective infrastructure, may be a reason why the one country that rebelled against the banker syndicate and jailed some of its bankers, may become the place where the bulk of Bitcoin mining takes place:
The computers that do the work eat up so much energy that electricity costs can be the deciding factor in profitability. There are Bitcoin mining installations in Hong Kong and Washington State, among other places, but Mr. Abiodun chose Iceland, where geothermal and hydroelectric energy are plentiful and cheap. And the arctic air is free and piped in to cool the machines, which often overheat when they are pushed to the outer limits of their computing capacity.
The operation can baffle even those entrusted with its care. Helgi Helgason, a burly, bald Icelandic man who oversees the data center that houses the machines, said that when he first heard that a Bitcoin mining operation was moving in he expected something very different. “I thought we’d bring in machines and put bags behind them and the coins would fall into them,” said Mr. Helgason, with a laugh.
No coins, but the cash miners get in exchange for BTC, especially if each Bitcoin continues to trade close to $1000, the mining can be quite lucrative. The flipside, however, is that the business is just as if not more capital intensive than running a gold mine for the same profit.
Until just a few months ago, most Bitcoin mining was done on the home computers of digital-money fanatics. But as the value of a single Bitcoin skyrocketed over the last few months, the competition for new coins set off a race that quickly turned mining into an industrial enterprise.
“Even if you had hardware earlier this year, that is becoming obsolete,” said Greg Schvey, a co-founder of Genesis Block, a virtual-currency research firm. “You are talking about order-of-magnitude jumps.”
The work the computers do is akin to guessing at a lottery number. The faster the computers run, the better chance of guessing that right number and winning valuable coins. So mining entrepreneurs are buying chips and computers designed specifically — and only — for this work. The machines in Iceland are worth about $20,000 each on the open market.
In February, Mr. Abiodun used the investors’ money to buy machines from a start-up dedicated solely to manufacturing specialized mining computers. The competition for those computers is so intense that he had to pay for them and wait for delivery.
When the delays became lengthy, however, he went on eBay and paid $130,000 for two high-powered machines, which he set up in June in a data center in Kansas City, Kan.
This was the beginning of Mr. Abiodun’s company, Cloud Hashing, which rents out computing power to people who want to mine without buying computers themselves. The term hashing refers to the repetitive code guessing that miners do.
Today, all of the machines dedicated to mining Bitcoin have a computing power about 4,500 times the capacity of the United States government’s mightiest supercomputer, the IBM Sequoia, according to calculations done by Michael B. Taylor, a professor at the University of California, San Diego. The computing capacity of the Bitcoin network has grown by around 30,000 percent since the beginning of the year.
What is the upside of mining?
At the end of each day, the spoils are divided up and sent to Cloud Hashing’s customers. Last Wednesday, for example, the entire operation unlocked 225 Bitcoins, valued at around $160,000 at recent prices. Cloud Hashing keeps about 20 percent of the capacity for its own mining.
To be sure, like any industry in its infancy, there are numerous glitches, and mining for Bitcoins is no different:
Some Cloud Hashing customers have also complained on Internet forums that it can be hard to get a response from the company when something goes wrong. But this has not stopped new contracts from pouring in. Cloud Hashing now has 4,500 customers, up from 1,000 in September.
Mr. Abiodun acknowledges that the company has not been prepared to deal with its rapid growth. He said he had used $4 million raised from two angel investors to add customer service representatives to offices in Austin, Tex., and London. Cloud Hashing is now preparing to open a mining facility in a data center near Dallas, which will hold more than $3 million worth of new machines being produced by CoinTerra, a Texas start-up run by a former Samsung chip designer.
The higher energy costs — and required air-conditioning — in Texas are worth it for Mr. Abiodun. He wants his operation to be widely distributed in case of power shortages or regulatory issues in one location. But he is also expanding his Icelandic operation, shipping in about 66 machines that have been running for the last few months near their manufacturer in Ukraine.
Mr. Abiodun said that by February, he hopes to have about 15 percent of the entire computing power of the Bitcoin network, significantly more than any other operation.
Hopefully Bitcoin will still be around by then.
The future of Bitcoin mining is uncertain. There are a fixed number of bitcoins available — and more than half have already been extracted. Kar-Wing Lau of the Hong Kong-based Allied Control, compared the explosion of professional mining operations to an arms race. For now, it appears to be a profitable endeavor. Lau said that Allied Control is currently exploring other mining platforms, including a mine built in a shipping container — something that could prove useful if regulators crack down on the currency.
December 1, 2013
If the next big wave in devices turns out to be gestures and eye tracking, Intel wants to be ready.
Intel is the king of PCs, but it hasn’t always been ahead of evolving innovations. Its processors power more than 80 percent of the world’s computers and the vast majority of its servers, but Intel has made little headway in smartphones and tablets. To spur interest in PCs again, as well as persuade more mobile device makers to use its chips, Intel has devoted significant resources and efforts to something it calls “perceptual computing.”
Perceptual computing may sound like a jargony, marketing term, but it does just what it says — it uses the senses to help technology interpret what’s going on around it. Those features, such as gestures, facial recognition, and voice recognition, should all make devices more “natural, intuitive, and immersive,” says Anil Nanduri, one of the Intel executives in charge of the company’s efforts in perceptual computing.
December 17, 2013
Former Microsoft executive Kurt DelBene will take over the job of overseeing ongoing fixes to the federal Obamacare marketplace HealthCare.gov starting Wednesday, officials said.
DelBene, who retired as president of the Microsoft Office division last summer, will replace management guru Jeffrey Zients, who was tapped by President Obama in October to manage the emergency repair job on that badly crippled website.
Zients was originally scheduled to start his new job as director for the National Economic Council at the beginning of 2014. But on Tuesday it was disclosed that Zients will take that job after the State of the Union address on Jan. 28. In the meantime, Gene Sperling will stay on as the council’s director until Zients takes over.
December 26, 2013
This year marked the start of teenagers adopting other social networks instead of Facebook as their parents signed up for Zuckerberg’s site in droves.
In a European Union-funded study on social media, the Department of Anthropology at University College London is running nine simultaneous 15-month ethnographic studies in seven countries to find out how teens were perceiving Facebook.
We read about what UK teens think on The Conversation:
January 23, 2014
While Google wants to get all up in your home appliances and your eyeballs, it looks like Apple’s pushing to get straight to the heart of their users. A patent application from the tech giant that was published today and picked up by Apple Insider describes a technology that would infer a user’s mood at any time in order to best serve them relevant ads.
It’s easy to hate. Sure it sounds like creepy mind-reading, but then so did predictive text when it first appeared. Hey, I still get freaked out when I look at a product on one site only to see it later pop up in an ad on another site (how did they know that’s the exact one I wanted?) But if we have to see ads—and they’re pretty useful if we want to get decent content for free—then they might as well be targeted to things we’re interested in.
That said, the patent doesn’t suggest what kind of different things people might be interested in when they’re feeling happy, or depressed, or angry, and that’s where things could get a bit weird. BGR suggested tongue-in-cheek that unhappy people could be targeted with anti-depressant ads, while Tech Crunch proposed ice cream and whiskey might do well among the recently heartbroken.
February 5, 2014
In 1999, Sugata Mitra tried something unusual in New Delhi, India: he placed a computer behind a clear plastic panel in one of the slums and just left it there.
Fully expecting it to be disassembled and sold for parts, the Newcastle University professor of educational technology came back eight hours later to a discovery that would change the course of his life and, quite possibly, the way we educate our children. A group of kids was using the computer to surf the Net in a language they didn’t understand: English.
Thinking that maybe someone had coached the kids, Mitra repeated his experiment in a rural village 200 miles away where the chances of someone knowing how to surf the Internet (let alone use a computer) were slim. After two months, Mitra returned to find the kids working the computer as if it was second nature. According to a report in Wired, one of the kids told him: “You’ve given us a machine that only works in English, so we had to teach ourselves English.”
February 4, 2014
The increasingly wired nature of the world means cyberspace will likely be the world’s next large battlefield (if it isn’t already).
Israel, always at the forefront of military technology, is paying close attention to the way the wind is blowing.
Major General Aviv Kochavi, speaking at the annual conference of the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv, went on record as saying “cyber, in my modest opinion, will soon be revealed to be the biggest revolution in warfare, more than gunpowder and the utilization of air power in the last century.”
January 27, 2014
Google has reportedly purchased an artificial intelligence startup called DeepMind founded by neuroscientist Dennis Hassabis, a chess genius who, according to Mind Sports Olympiad, could be “the best games player in history.” Although Google refused to reveal the price of the purchase, anonymous sources speculate that the corporation spent $400 million on the current artificial intelligence talent acquisition.
According to Re/code, Google CEO Larry Page reportedly purchased the artificial intelligence startup DeepMind and even led the deal himself. Although information regarding DeepMind is scarce, unnamed sources in the artificial intelligence community mention that the startup has been recruiting people and its team has exceeded 50 people. Moreover, anonymous sources mention Founders Fund and Horizons Ventures as major investors, along with Skype developer Jaan Tallin as a possible investor and advisor. The startup is also believed to have over $50 million in funding.
Sources in the artificial intelligence community also mention that DeepMind can compete with giants like Facebook or Google for talent and that it could be “the largest independent company” which focuses on artificial intelligence.
CBS Los Angeles
November 25, 2013
The growing prominence of cars controlled by dozens of computers — and the ability to manipulate some with the touch of a smartphone — is leading researchers to question their vulnerability.
The circumstances surrounding the June death of investigative journalist Michael Hastings in Hollywood prompted former U.S. Coordinator for Security and Counter-Terrorism Richard Clarke to suggest that “what evidence is available publicly is consistent with a car cyber-attack.”
Despite the crash being classified as an accident by the Los Angeles Police Department, the Department of Defense has acknowledged the Pentagon has explored remotely controlling cars by computer hacking.
December 27, 2013
Eight prominent Internet technology companies unveiled an open letter last week calling for reforms to the government surveillance programs revealed by Edward Snowden. “The balance in many countries has tipped too far in favor of the state and away from the rights of the individual—rights that are enshrined in our constitution,” reads the letter, published on a website that lays out five principles for reform, including greater oversight and transparency, as well as an end to bulk data collection.
Executives from seven of the firms will meet with President Obama on Tuesday, in the shadow of a federal judge’s ruling that the collection of domestic phone records is “almost certainly” unconstitutional. The opinion from US District Judge Richard Leon reinforces the impression that NSA overreach constitutes a primary threat to privacy and civil liberty. But some privacy advocates caution that even if the NSA’s programs are scaled back, surveillance infrastructure will persist in the private sector—thanks to the same companies now calling for reform, whose business models depend on the collection and sale of vast quantities of personal information.
“It’s one-stop shopping for the NSA,” warned Jeffrey Chester, the executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy, a consumer privacy advocacy group. “What they’ve done is create a global commercial surveillance system that is engaged in the same kind of pervasive tracking and analysis [as the NSA].”
Sudhir K Bansal
January 9, 2014
Now that we have enough details about how the NSA’s Surveillance program, running for a long time against almost each country of this planet.
Hundreds of top-secret NSA documents provided by whistleblower Edward Snowden already exposed that Spying projects like PRISM and MUSCULAR are tapping directly into Google and Yahoo internal networks to access our Emails. NSA’s tactics are even capable to defeat the SSL encryption, so unsecured email can easily be monitored and even altered as it travels through the Internet.
One major point on which all of us are worrying is about the privacy of communication among each other and If you’re looking for a little personal privacy in your communications you will need to encrypt your messages.
December 29, 2013
Dr. Krugman fears that Bitcoin was created to further a “libertarian agenda,” undermining central banks and their power.
Well, he’s actually pretty right. It wasn’t created to further a libertarian agenda per se, but it certainly was created to challenge the central banks of the world. A pretty lofty and worthwhile goal as far as I am concerned. What’s crazy is that Bitcoin actually is challenging central banks to some degree.
Paul Krugman and technology don’t mix very well. For instance in 1998 the esteemed economist had this to say about the Internet;
”The growth of the Internet will slow drastically, as the flaw in “Metcalfe’s law”–which states that the number of potential connections in a network is proportional to the square of the number of participants–becomes apparent: most people have nothing to say to each other! By 2005 or so, it will become clear that the Internet’s impact on the economy has been no greater than the fax machine’s.”
Actually Paul Krugman and economics don’t mix very well. But he gets to write a column in the New York Times every week so people listen to what he says. (Including me.) Even if he is consistently wrong or non-committal on important points where he should be clear.
If Bitcoin succeeds, great. The world will be better for it. If it fails another version will come along quickly. We’ve passed the point of turning back with virtual currencies. They will be a part of economic life going forward.
What Krugman fears is that these alternative currencies will undermine not only the central banks, but more importantly for him, the “state.” He fears that people will opt out of the dollar. That the ability of the Federal Reserve to print will be limited by the unwashed masses who simply want their money to be worth something. God forbid. This in turn puts Krugman’s dream of a statist coercive “utopia” at risk.
I prefer gold and silver, but in a marketplace I say let new entrants make their case. Bitcoin makes a compelling case. Very compelling. So compelling that statists like Paul Krugman are fretting. Which is of course wonderful.
The jury’s out on Bitcoin, but if Krugman doesn’t like it there is a good chance that it will do well.
January 19, 2014
The human brain can achieve the remarkable feat of processing an image seen for just 13 milliseconds, scientists have found. This lightning speed obliterates the previous record speed of 100 milliseconds reported by previous studies.
In the study, scientists showed people a series of images flashed for 13 to 80 milliseconds. Viewers successfully identified things like a “picnic” or “smiling couple” even after the briefest of glimpses.
“The fact that you can do that at these high speeds indicates to us that what vision does is find concepts,” study leader Mary Potter, a professor of brain and cognitive sciences at MIT in Cambridge, Mass., said in a statement.” That’s what the brain is doing all day long — trying to understand what we’re looking at.”
December 14, 2013
The White House has decided to preserve the cyber war powers held by the director of the National Security Agency (NSA).
The decision to maintain NSA control over U.S. Cyber Command, a team of military hackers, means that the agency’s next director will be a military officer and not a civilian, as privacy advocates had hoped.
“Following a thorough interagency review, the Administration has decided that keeping the positions of NSA director and Cyber Command commander together as one, dual-hatted position is the most effective approach to accomplishing both agencies’ missions,” Caitlin Hayden, a White House spokeswoman, said in a statement.
The announcement comes as an advisory panel prepares to deliver a report to the president with recommended changes to the NSA. According toThe Wall Street Journal, a draft version of the report recommends splitting the NSA and Cyber Command and naming a civilian director of the NSA.
December 28, 2013
Several states that paid millions to set up ObamaCare exchange websites but got error-plagued systems in return are starting to fight back, halting payments to the contractors and weighing legal options.
The same contractor that shouldered a large part of the blame for botching the federal HealthCare.gov is also under fire at the state level, where the company had an array of contracts to set up local ObamaCare exchange sites. CGI Group is facing angry officials in Massachusetts and Vermont who are cutting off payments in retaliation for widespread website problems.
Massachusetts — whose government was one of the staunchest supporters of ObamaCare, and whose health plan arguably was the model for the law — is refusing to pay any more until a working website is delivered.
The Washington Times
January 20, 2014
The man who appeared before Congress last week to explain the security pitfalls of HealthCare.gov took to Fox News on Sunday to explain just how easy it was to penetrate the website.
Hacking expert David Kennedy told Fox’s Chris Wallace that gaining access to 70,000 personal records of Obamacare enrollees via HealthCare.gov took about 4 minutes and required nothing more than a standard browser, the Daily Caller reported.
“And 70,000 was just one of the numbers that I was able to go up to and I stopped after that,” he said. “You know, I’m sure it’s hundreds of thousands, if not more, and it was done within about a 4 minute timeframe. So, it’s just wide open.”
“You can literally just open up your browser, go to this, and extract all this information without actually having to hack the website itself,” he said.
November 30, 2013
While it’s common for search engines to receive DMCA takedown requests for specific URLs, events in France have taken things to a whole new level. In order to protect the copyrights of film producers, the High Court of Paris has concluded a 2011 case by ordering Google, Microsoft and Yahoo to completely de-list 16 video streaming sites from their search results.
Last week turned out to be yet another hectic seven days for the copyright enforcement obligations of Google. The search engine received requests to de-list 6.51 million allegedly infringing URLs, yet another new record in a piracy battle that seemingly has no end.
If the entertainment companies had their way, however, things would be handled differently. The general line coming out of the MPAA, RIAA and their UK-based counterparts BPI, is that by now Google knows which domains are infringing copyright. On this basis action should be taken to render their indexes harder to find. Or better still, have them de-listed from search engines altogether, the rightsholders say.
While Google has shown zero interest in the latter proposal, over in Europe a case underway since 2011 has now concluded, with a thought-provoking outcome for the entertainment industries.
The case dates back to December 2011 when L’Association des Producteurs de Cinéma (APC), a group which in itself represents more than 120 companies including Paramount and Sony, teamed up with La Fédération Nationale des Distributeurs de Films (FNDF) and Syndicat de l’Edition Vidéo Numérique (SEVN). Adding to the already formidable lineup, the groups were later joined by the Union of Film Producers (UPF) and the Union of Independent Producers (SPI).
The film and TV companies’ complaint, rooted in Article 336-2 of the Intellectual Property code, targeted 16 domains connected to the popular Allostreaming, Fifostream and DPstream video portals. The aim was to force the world’s largest search engines – Google, Bing and Yahoo – to completely delist the sites from their search results and to have local ISPs block them.
After previously obtaining emergency interim measures, yesterday the studios received good news from the High Court of Paris.
The court ruled that the film industry had clearly demonstrated that the sites in question are “dedicated or virtually dedicated to the distribution of audiovisual works without the consent of their creators,” thus violating their copyrights.
As a result the search services of Google, Microsoft, Yahoo and local company Orange are now under orders to “take all necessary measures to prevent the occurrence on their services of any results referring to any of the pages” on these sites.
Several ISPs – Orange, Free, Bouygues Télécom, SFR, Numéricable and Darty Télécom were also ordered to “implement all appropriate means including blocking” to prevent access to the infringing sites.
Rightsholders have been celebrating the decision in the case which was concluded after almost two years of legal wrangling.
“The ruling today by the High Court in this case recognized the merits of the approach forcing ISPs and search engines to cooperate with right holders in the protection of the law of literary and artistic property on the Internet,” they said in a statement.
But despite the big win, the cards didn’t all fall in favor of the movie companies. PCInpact reports that they had demanded that the search engines and ISPs foot the bill of the blocking and censorship, but the court decided otherwise.
“The cost of the measures ordered can not be charged to the defendants who are required to implement them,” the decision reads.
Google, Microsoft, Yahoo and the ISPs now have two weeks to implement the measures, which come on the heels of the EU Advocate General’s advice earlier this week on the blocking of infringing sites.
January 31, 2013
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange addressed a major gathering of computer experts Monday at the Chaos Communication Congress in Hamburg, Germany, calling on them to join forces in resisting government intrusions on Internet freedom and privacy. We play highlights from Assange’s speech, as well as the one given by Sarah Harrison, the WikiLeaks member who accompanied Edward Snowden to Russia. We also hear from independent journalist and security expert Jacob Appelbaum, who reveals a spying tool used by the National Security Agency known as a “portable continuous wave generator.” The remote-controlled device works in tandem with tiny electronic implants to bounce invisible waves of energy off keyboards and monitors to see what is being typed. It works even if the target computer is not connected to the Internet.
AMY GOODMAN: We turn now to the Chaos Communication Congress, or CCC, in Hamburg, Germany. One of the speakers at the conference was WikiLeaks’ Sarah Harrison, who accompanied Edward Snowden to Russia and spent four months with him. Harrison addressed the audience after receiving a long standing ovation.
November 20, 2013
A U.S. court has given the Department of Homeland Security 30 days to explain why it has not disclosed its plans for a rumored “Internet kill switch” that could shut down communications in a crisis.
The court order follows a back-and-forth between the department and the digital rights group Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), which has been pressuring the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to release the documents.
It began in July 2012 when the EPIC filed a Freedom of Information Act request with DHS for information on the alleged “kill switch.”
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