Photograph by Westinghouse Electric Corp
Buzz Aldrin Joins Florida Institute of Technology, Forming ‘Master Plan’ for Colonizing Mars within 25 YearsPosted: August 29, 2015
“The Pilgrims on the Mayflower came here to live and stay. They didn’t wait around Plymouth Rock for the return trip, and neither will people building up a population and a settlement.”
— Buzz Aldrin
The second man to walk on the moon took part in a signing ceremony Thursday at the university, less than an hour’s drive from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. The Buzz Aldrin Space Institute is set to open this fall.
The 85-year-old Aldrin, who followed Neil Armstrong onto the moon’s surface on July 20, 1969, will serve as a research professor of aeronautics as well as a senior faculty adviser for the institute. Read the rest of this entry »
This is how fast the space probe is.
The man who took over stewardship of Bitcoin from its mysterious inventor says the currency is in serious trouble.
Tom Simonite reports: The way things are going, the digital currency Bitcoin will start to malfunction early next year. Transactions will become increasingly delayed, and the system of money now worth $3.3 billion will begin to die as its flakiness drives people away. So says Gavin Andresen, who in 2010 was designated chief caretaker of the code that powers Bitcoin by its shadowy creator. Andresen held the role of “core maintainer” during most of Bitcoin’s improbable rise; he stepped down last year but still remains heavily involved with the currency (see “The Man Who Really Built Bitcoin”).
Andresen’s gloomy prediction stems from the fact that Bitcoin can’t process more than seven transactions a second. That’s a tiny volume compared to the tens of thousands per second that payment systems like Visa can handle—and a limit he expects to start crippling Bitcoin early in 2016. It stems from the maximum size of the “blocks” that are added to the digital ledger of Bitcoin transactions, the blockchain, by people dubbed miners who run software that confirms Bitcoin transactions and creates new Bitcoin (see “What Bitcoin Is and Why It Matters”).
Andresen’s proposed solution triggered an uproar among people who use or work with Bitcoin when he introduced it two weeks ago. Rather than continuing to work with the developers who maintain Bitcoin’s code, Andresen released his solution in the form of an alternative version of the Bitcoin software called BitcoinXT and urged the community to switch over. If 75 percent of miners have adopted his fix after January 11, 2016, it will trigger a two-week grace period and then allow a “fork” of the blockchain with higher capacity. Critics consider that to be a reckless toying with Bitcoin’s future; Andresen, who now works on Bitcoin with the support of MIT’s Media Lab, says it is necessary to prevent the currency strangling itself. He spoke with MIT Technology Review’s San Francisco bureau chief, Tom Simonite.
How serious is the problem of Bitcoin’s limited transaction rate?
It is urgent. Looking at the transaction volume on the Bitcoin network, we need to address it within the next four or five months. As we get closer and closer to the limit, bad things start to happen. Networks close to capacity get congested and unreliable. If you want reliability, you’ll have to start paying higher and higher fees on transactions, and there will be a point where fees get high enough that people stop using Bitcoin. Read the rest of this entry »
Lab-Grown Diamonds Made In A Microwave Are Now A Thing.
Roland Jones reports: Diamonds really are forever, now that we can manufacture them.
“The man-made diamonds are starting to be sold by retailers such as Wal-Mart , although they still make up just a small fraction of total diamond sales.”
There’s a growing market for man-made jewels grown in science labs, Bloomberg reports. The diamonds are made by placing a carbon seed in a microwave chamber and superheating the substance into a plasma ball, which crystallizes into the much-desired jewels. Experts can only tell the difference between the manufactured diamonds and traditionally mined ones using a machine…(read more)
Drones are being used to capture video footage that shows construction progress at the Sacramento Kings’ new stadium.
Will Knight writes: For some construction workers, any thoughts of slacking off could soon seem rather quaint. The drones will almost certainly notice.
“It’s not new to the construction industry that there would either be people standing and observing operations, or that there would be fixed cameras. Yes, making this autonomous has a different feeling for the workers.”
The workers building a lavish new downtown stadium for the Sacramento Kings in California are being monitored by drones and software that can automatically flag slow progress.
“But you have to keep in mind that it’s not really questioning the efficiency of the workers, it’s questioning what resources these guys need to be more efficient.”
The project highlights the way new technologies allow manual work to be monitored and scrutinized, and it comes as productivity in other areas of work, including many white collar jobs, is being tracked more closely using desktop and smartphone software.
“We highlight at-risk locations on a site, where the probability of having an issue is really high. We can understand why deviations are happening, and we can see where efficiency improvements are made.”
— Mani Golparvar-Fard, an assistant professor in the department of civil engineering at the University of Illinois, who developed the software with several colleagues
Once per day, several drones automatically patrol the Sacramento work site, collecting video footage. That footage is then converted into a three-dimensional picture of the site, which is fed into software that compares it to computerized architectural plans as well as a the construction work plan showing when each element should be finished. The software can show managers how the project is progressing, and can automatically highlight parts that may be falling behind schedule.
“We highlight at-risk locations on a site, where the probability of having an issue is really high,” says Mani Golparvar-Fard, an assistant professor in the department of civil engineering at the University of Illinois, who developed the software with several colleagues. It can show, for example, that a particular structural element is behind schedule, perhaps because materials have not yet arrived. “We can understand why deviations are happening, and we can see where efficiency improvements are made,” Golparvar-Fard says.
Such additional scrutiny is controversial. It raises worries over worker privacy, for instance, and fears that people may be encouraged to work excessive hours.
“Such additional scrutiny is controversial. It raises worries over worker privacy, for instance, and fears that people may be encouraged to work excessive hours.”
Golparvar-Fard concedes that this could be an issue, but he defends the idea. “It’s not new to the construction industry that there would either be people standing and observing operations, or that there would be fixed cameras,” he says. “Yes, making this autonomous has a different feeling for the workers. But you have to keep in mind that it’s not really questioning the efficiency of the workers, it’s questioning what resources these guys need to be more efficient.” Read the rest of this entry »
In 20 years, the Web might complete its shift from liberator to oppressor. It’s up to us to prevent that.
“What does it mean for companies to know everything about us, and for computer algorithms to make life and death decisions? Should we worry more about another terrorist attack in New York, or the ability of journalists and human rights workers around the world to keep working? How much free speech does a free society really need?”
For better or for worse, we’ve prioritized things like security, online civility, user interface, and intellectual property interests above freedom and openness. The Internet is less open and more centralized. It’s more regulated. And increasingly it’s less global, and more divided. These trends: centralization, regulation, and globalization are accelerating. And they will define the future of our communications network, unless something dramatic changes.
Twenty years from now,
• You won’t necessarily know anything about the decisions that affect your rights, like whether you get a loan, a job, or if a car runs over you. Things will get decided by data-crunching computer algorithms and no human will really be able to understand why.
• The Internet will become a lot more like TV and a lot less like the global conversation we envisioned 20 years ago.
• Rather than being overturned, existing power structures will be reinforced and replicated, and this will be particularly true for security.
•Internet technology design increasingly facilitates rather than defeats censorship and control.
It doesn’t have to be this way. But to change course, we need to ask some hard questions and make some difficult decisions.
What does it mean for companies to know everything about us, and for computer algorithms to make life and death decisions? Should we worry more about another terrorist attack in New York, or the ability of journalists and human rights workers around the world to keep working? How much free speech does a free society really need?
How can we stop being afraid and start being sensible about risk? Technology has evolved into a Golden Age for Surveillance. Can technology now establish a balance of power between governments and the governed that would guard against social and political oppression? Given that decisions by private companies define individual rights and security, how can we act on that understanding in a way that protects the public interest and doesn’t squelch innovation? Whose responsibility is digital security? What is the future of the Dream of Internet Freedom?
For me, the Dream of Internet Freedom started in 1984 with Steven Levy’s book “Hackers, Heroes of the Computer Revolution.” Levy told the story of old school coders and engineers who believed that all information should be freely accessible. They imagined that computers would empower people to make our own decisions about what was right and wrong. Empowering people depended on the design principle of decentralization. Decentralization was built into the very DNA of the early Internet, smart endpoints, but dumb pipes, that would carry whatever brilliant glories the human mind and heart could create to whomever wanted to listen. Read the rest of this entry »
Shattered skulls and shin bones of 7000-year-old skeletons may point to torture and mutilation not previously observed in early Neolithic Linear Pottery culture.
The chance discovery of a mass grave crammed with the battered skeletons of ancient Europeans has shed light on the lethal violence that tore through one of the continent’s earliest farming communities.
“This is a classic case where we find the ‘hardware’: the skeletal remains, the artefacts, everything that is durable we can find in the graves. But the ‘software’: what people were thinking, why they were doing things, what their mindset was at this time, of course was not preserved.”
In 2006, archaeologists were called in after road builders in Germany uncovered a narrow ditch filled with human bones as they worked at a site in Schöneck-Kilianstädten, 20km north-east of Frankfurt.
They have now identified the remains as belonging to a 7000-year-old group of early farmers who were part of the Linear Pottery culture, which gained its name from the group’s distinctive style of ceramic decoration.
In the seven metre-long, V-shaped pit, researchers found the skeletons of 26 adults and children, who were killed by devastating strikes to the head or arrow wounds. The skull fractures are classic signs of blunt force injuries caused by basic stone age weapons.
Along with close-quarter fighting, attackers used bows and arrows to ambush their neighbours. Two arrowheads made of animal bone were found in the soil stuck to the skeletons. They are thought to have been inside the bodies when they were placed in the pit.
More than half of the individuals had their legs broken in acts of apparent torture or posthumous mutilation. The smashed-in shin bones could represent a new form of violent torture not seen before in the group.
In the Linear Pottery culture, each person was given their own grave within a cemetery, the body carefully arranged and often buried with grave goods such as pottery and other possessions. By contrast, in the mass grave the bodies lay scattered.
Christian Meyer, an archaeologist who led the study at the University of Mainz, believes the attackers meant to terrorise others and demonstrate that they could annihilate an entire village. The site of the mass grave, which dates back to about 5000BC, is located near an ancient border between different communities, where conflict was likely. Read the rest of this entry »
“The six astronauts won’t be sneaking a sip. It’s all for science.”
A Japanese company known for its whiskey and other alcoholic beverages included five types of distilled spirits in a space station cargo ship. The station’s big robotic arm — operated by Japanese astronaut Kimiya Yui — grabbed onto the supply craft launched Wednesday by his homeland. Flight controllers helped anchor it down.
The supply ship contains nearly 10,000 pounds of cargo, including the six liquor samples. Suntory Global Innovation Center in Tokyo wants to see if alcoholic beverages mellow the same in space as they do on Earth.
[Also see – うん！Suntory Plans Space-Aged Whiskey]
The samples will be used for experiments and will spend at least a year in orbit before being returned to Earth. An identical set of samples will be stored on the ground in Japan. Read the rest of this entry »
Better Informed Than Congress: China’s Cyber Spies Reading Emails of Senior Obama Administration Officials Since 2010Posted: August 10, 2015
The email grab — first codenamed ‘Dancing Panda’ by U.S. officials, and then ‘Legion Amethyst’ — was detected in April 2010, according to a top secret NSA briefing from 2014. The intrusion into personal emails was still active at the time of the briefing and, according to the senior official, is still going on.
Robert Windrem reports: China’s cyber spies have accessed the private emails of “many” top Obama administration officials, according to a senior U.S. intelligence official and a top secret document obtained by NBC News, and have been doing so since at least April 2010.
The email grab — first codenamed “Dancing Panda” by U.S. officials, and then “Legion Amethyst” — was detected in April 2010, according to a top secret NSA briefing from 2014. The intrusion into personal emails was still active at the time of the briefing and, according to the senior official, is still going on.
In 2011, Google disclosed that the private gmail accounts of some U.S. officials had been compromised, but the briefing shows that private email accounts from other providers were compromised as well.
The government email accounts assigned to the officials, however, were not hacked because they are more secure, says the senior U.S. intelligence official.
The senior official says the private emails of “all top national security and trade officials” were targeted.
The Chinese also harvested the email address books of targeted officials, according to the document, reconstructing and then “exploiting the(ir) social networks” by sending malware to their friends and colleagues.
The time period overlaps with Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email account while Secretary of State from Jan. 21, 2009 to Feb. 1, 2013. The names and ranks of the officials whose emails were actually grabbed, however, were not disclosed in the NSA briefing nor by the intelligence official. Read the rest of this entry »
Adam Rogers writes: Imagine an election—A close one. You’re undecided. So you type the name of one of the candidates into your search engine of choice. (Actually, let’s not be coy here. In most of the world, one search engine dominates; in Europe and North America, it’s Google.) And Google coughs up, in fractions of a second, articles and facts about that candidate. Great! Now you are an informed voter, right? But a study published this week says that the order of those results, the ranking of positive or negative stories on the screen, can have an enormous influence on the way you vote. And if the election is close enough, the effect could be profound enough to change the outcome.
In other words: Google’s ranking algorithm for search results could accidentally steal the presidency. “We estimate, based on win margins in national elections around the world,” says Robert Epstein, a psychologist at the American Institute for Behavioral Research and Technology and one of the study’s authors, “that Google could determine the outcome of upwards of 25 percent of all national elections.”
Epstein’s paper combines a few years’ worth of experiments in which Epstein and his colleague Ronald Robertson gave people access to information about the race for prime minister in Australia in 2010, two years prior, and then let the mock-voters learn about the candidates via a simulated search engine that displayed real articles.
One group saw positive articles about one candidate first; the other saw positive articles about the other candidate. (A control group saw a random assortment.) The result: Whichever side people saw the positive results for, they were more likely to vote for—by more than 48 percent. The team calls that number the “vote manipulation power,” or VMP. The effect held—strengthened, even—when the researchers swapped in a single negative story into the number-four and number-three spots. Apparently it made the results seem even more neutral and therefore more trustworthy.
But of course that was all artificial—in the lab. So the researchers packed up and went to India in advance of the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, a national campaign with 800 million eligible voters. (Eventually 430 million people voted over the weeks of the actual election.) “I thought this time we’d be lucky if we got 2 or 3 percent, and my gut said we’re gonna get nothing,” Epstein says, “because this is an intense, intense election environment.” Voters get exposed, heavily, to lots of other information besides a mock search engine result. Read the rest of this entry »