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Ethereum Lays Out Plans for Next-Generation Blockchain

Posted: 29 Nov 2017 09:27 AM PST

Ethereum Founder Unveils Roadmap For Next-Gen Blockchain

At the "Beyond Block" conference in Taipei, Ethereum's founder, Vitalik Buterin, unveiled the plans for "Ethereum 2.0," the next-generation version of Ethereum.

[...] [The] network's rapid growth in recent years has [revealed] a few major issues within the network. According to Buterin, there are currently three major problems that need to be solved to push the Ethereum network to the next level: privacy, consensus safety, smart contract safety, and perhaps the biggest of them all: scalability.

[...] The Ethereum developers have already taken steps to address [anonymity] by implementing the same zero-knowledge proof privacy technology used by Zcash in a recent upgrade. The technology should enable distributed apps (such as voting apps, for instance) to have mathematically provable anonymity.

Buterin said that the privacy issue should be 75% solved already at the network-level, with the remaining 25% to be solved by apps that work on top of Ethereum which would need to actually implement those privacy features.

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Brilliant Octopus Covers Herself in Shells to Hide from a Hungry Shark

Posted: 29 Nov 2017 07:54 AM PST

Now that's alien intelligence:

The she-cephalopod was filmed by the Blue Planet II crew as they were exploring the inky depths in South Africa, focusing on the magical world of marine forests. As series producer Mark Brownlow explains, "We may think of our ocean's as blue but there is another surprising world of the Green Seas. From towering undersea forests of giant kelp to vast prairies of sea grass, this is an almost Brothers Grimm fairy tale of all the strange and magical creatures that live within these secret worlds. Here sea dragons lurk, bizarre giant cuttlefish breed, and an ingenious octopus outwits a forest full of sharks."

Our tale of clever derring-do begins when a hungry pyjama shark goes to attack the octopus, who quickly inserts its tentacles into the shark's gills in an effort to suffocate it. Shark lets go; octopus skedaddles.

But then she does something truly remarkable, and something never before seen (by humans, at least). As the show's narrator, Sir David Attenborough, says: "The octopus is far from finished."

Caught in the open, she scrambles to the seafloor, attaches shells to her body with her suckers, and rolls up into a beautiful mosaic ball. The shark is left confused and by the time it seems to figure out what is going on, the octopus darts away, leaving the shark looking for her in the scattered detritus of her ersatz armor.

Clever. Maybe we should try teaching octopi sign language, as as we have other species.

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U.S. Supreme Court to Hear Warrantless Cell Phone Tracking Case

Posted: 29 Nov 2017 06:21 AM PST

The U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments on Wednesday in Carpenter v. United States, a case dealing with the use of cell phone records without a warrant using the Stored Communications Act:

The irony of the case before the court, Carpenter v. United States, is that it involves massive cellphone thefts and a string of armed robberies at Radio Shacks in Michigan and Ohio. The robbers entered the stores, guns drawn, herded patrons to the back, loaded up laundry bags with new smartphones, and then later sold their booty to fences for tens of thousands of dollars per haul.

[...] The question before the Supreme Court is whether the cops should have gotten a search warrant in order to obtain the cell location information. A warrant would have required them to show a judge that they had probable cause to believe those records contained evidence of a crime. What the police did instead was obtain a court order under the federal Stored Communications Act, which is easier. In this case, as in others, prosecutors argue that the Supreme Court has long viewed information shared by a consumer as fair game without a warrant. Even before the Stored Communications law was enacted, the high court ruled that you lose your Fourth Amendment right to privacy when you share information with a third party, like the phone company.

Fourth Amendment scholar Orin Kerr contends that the idea of tracking someone's movements in public is not new. The police, for instance, tail a suspect, or check on his alibi. Only when they search the suspect's home or person do they have to get a court-approved warrant. Kerr contends that the cell-cite location records at issue in this case "are basically the network equivalent of public observation that traditionally would not be protected" by a warrant requirement. After all, he notes, the cell-site location information is not maintained by government decree. Rather, wireless providers keep the data recorded by cell towers in order to monitor and improve their service.

Nathan Freed Wessler of the American Civil Liberties Union is challenging that argument in the Supreme Court. This kind of cellphone technology "really changes the game and threatens to upend our expectation of privacy in the digital age," he says. After all, he argues, this wasn't a case of the police following a shady person.

"They decided after the fact they wanted to try to tie him [Carpenter] to a crime," Wessler says, "and never before in the history of this country has the government had the power to press rewind on someone's life and chart out where they were going over the course of four months." Four months and nearly 13,000 calls, to be precise.

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Uber v. Waymo Trial Delayed Because Uber Withheld Evidence

Posted: 29 Nov 2017 04:47 AM PST

A whistleblower from Uber's former "Strategic Services Group" has caused the Waymo v. Uber trial to be delayed again because Uber withheld evidence:

An Uber Technologies Inc. whistle-blower made explosive allegations that a company team stole trade secrets to gain an edge over rivals, prompting a judge to further delay the ride-hailing company's trial with Waymo.

Richard Jacobs, who worked for a now-disbanded corporate surveillance team at Uber, told the judge that stealing trade secrets was part of his former colleagues' mission, along with monitoring information on metrics and incentives for drivers who operate on competitor platforms overseas.

Jacobs was put under oath at a hearing Tuesday after the judge was alerted last week by U.S. prosecutors that he communicated with them in their probe of trade-secret theft at Uber. U.S. District Judge William Alsup said he takes Jacobs's account seriously because prosecutors found it credible.

[...] Jacobs testified that the surveillance team used "anonymous servers" separate from the "main part of Uber." He was asked by a lawyer for Waymo about a staff attorney at Uber who allegedly guided efforts to "impede, obstruct, or influence" lawsuits against the company.

Also at Reuters, BBC, and Recode.

Previously: Waymo v. Uber Continues, Will Not Move to Arbitration
Alphabet Seeking $2.6 Billion in Damages From Uber
Waymo's Case Against Uber "Shrinks" After Trade Secret Claim Thrown Out

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Agrophotovoltaics Increases Land Use Efficiency by Over 60 Percent

Posted: 29 Nov 2017 03:13 AM PST

Raising a bumper crop of electrons?

Until now, acreage was designated for either photovoltaics or photosynthesis, that is, to generate electricity or grow crops. An agrophotovoltaics (APV) pilot project near Lake Constance, however, has now demonstrated that both uses are compatible. Dual use of land is resource efficient, reduces competition for land and additionally opens up a new source of income for farmers. For one year, the largest APV system in Germany is being tested on the Demeter farm cooperative Heggelbach. In the demonstration project led by the Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems ISE, solar modules for electricity production are installed directly above crops covering an area of one third hectare. Now the first solar harvest of power and produce has been collected on both levels.

"The project results from the first year are a complete success: The agrophotovoltaic system proved suitable for the practice and costs as much as a small solar roof system. The crop production is sufficiently high and can be profitably sold on the market," explains Stephan Schindele, project manager of agrophotovoltaics at Fraunhofer ISE.

Why not cover parking lots with solar panels instead? Parked cars do not need to perform photosynthesis.

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Cosmonaut Claims to Have Found Extraterrestrial Bacteria on the Exterior of the ISS

Posted: 29 Nov 2017 01:41 AM PST

Cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov suspects an extraterrestrial origin for bacteria found on the exterior of the ISS:

A Russian cosmonaut claims to have caught aliens. Cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov says he found bacteria clinging to the external surface of the International Space Station that didn't come from the surface of Earth.

Shkaplerov told the Russian news agency that cosmonauts collected the bacteria by swabbing the outside of the space station during space walks years ago.

"And now it turns out that somehow these swabs reveal bacteria that were absent during the launch of the ISS module," Shkapkerov told TASS. "That is, they have come from outer space and settled along the external surface. They are being studied so far and it seems that they pose no danger."

A recent study suggests that interplanetary dust can transport microbes to or from Earth:

Astronomers have long believed that asteroid (or comet) impacts were the only natural way to transport life between planets. However, a new study published November 6 in Astrobiology suggests otherwise.

The study, authored by Professor Arjun Berera from the University of Edinburgh's School of Physics and Astronomy, suggests that life on Earth may have begun when fast-moving streams of space dust carried microscopic organisms to our planet. Berera found that these streams of interplanetary dust are not only capable of transporting particles to Earth, but also from it.

Also at TASS, Newsweek, BGR.

Space Dust Collisions as a Planetary Escape Mechanism (DOI: 10.1089/ast.2017.1662) (DX) (arXiv link above)

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Amazon Launching Preview Version of "Sumerian", a VR/AR Tool

Posted: 29 Nov 2017 12:09 AM PST

Amazon launches Sumerian, a browser-based tool for building AR, VR experiences

Amazon is jumping onto the augmented and virtual reality bandwagon with the launch of Sumerian, a new application that's supposed to make it easier for people to develop 3D experiences for a wide variety of platforms.

The browser-based tool is available in limited preview today. At launch, Sumerian enables developers to put 3D models together in scenes for use in VR and AR applications. It includes an object library full of models that people can put to use, as well as support for importing assets from FBX and OBJ files.

On top of this, developers get access to a set of "hosts" — 3D characters that they can customize to interact with an end user. These hosts integrate with Amazon Polly and Lex to provide natural language capabilities similar to those underpinning the Alexa virtual assistant.

Sounds like a tool to build tiny AI-populated versions of Second Life.

Amazon Sumerian: "The fastest and easiest way to create VR, AR, and 3D experiences".

Also at TechCrunch and SiliconAngle.

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Quantum Key Distribution Sped Up

Posted: 28 Nov 2017 10:35 PM PST

Researchers have increased the speed of quantum key distribution from hundreds of kilobits to megabits per second:

Researchers have packed extra information onto single photons to speed up quantum key distribution (QKD) systems. QKD uses a characteristic of quantum mechanics to protect keys used to encrypt data using classical crypto schemes: if Eve tries to snoop on the key Alice is sending Bob, the quantum state/s a photon carries are destroyed. Alice and Bob know there's an eavesdropper, and the key Eve eavesdropped is useless.

However, compared to conventional telecommunications systems, QKD is slow: most systems based on photon-by-photon transmission of crypto keys run at speeds of hundreds of kilobits per second.

Research from Duke University's Nurul Taimur Islam, with collaborators from Ohio State University, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, and the National University of Singapore, achieved megabit key distribution rates using off-the-shelf components, meaning existing photonic QKD systems could be adapted to use it their work. In a paper based on research funded by the United States Navy and Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), published in Science Advances [open, DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.1701491] [DX] and available as pre-press at arXiv, the researchers explained that to get faster key distribution rates, they worked to overcome the limits on photon detectors' speed.

Also at Engadget.

Related: Secure Computing for Everybody
Reflective Satellites may be the Future of High-end Encryption
Quantum Video Chat Links Scientists on Two Different Continents

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Amputees Can Learn to Control a Robotic Arm With Their Minds

Posted: 28 Nov 2017 09:01 PM PST

Brain-computer interfacing for amputees:

A new study by neuroscientists at the University of Chicago shows how amputees can learn to control a robotic arm through electrodes implanted in the brain.

The research, published in Nature Communications, details changes that take place in both sides of the brain used to control the amputated limb and the remaining, intact limb. The results show both areas can create new connections to learn how to control the device, even several years after an amputation.

"That's the novel aspect to this study, seeing that chronic, long-term amputees can learn to control a robotic limb," said Nicho Hatsopoulos, PhD, professor of organismal biology and anatomy at UChicago and senior author of the study. "But what was also interesting was the brain's plasticity over long-term exposure, and seeing what happened to the connectivity of the network as they learned to control the device."
The researchers worked with three rhesus monkeys who suffered injuries at a young age and had to have an arm amputated to rescue them four, nine and 10 years ago, respectively. Their limbs were not amputated for the purposes of the study. In two of the animals, the researchers implanted electrode arrays in the side of the brain opposite, or contralateral, to the amputated limb. This is the side that used to control the amputated limb. In the third animal, the electrodes were implanted on the same side, or ipsilateral, to the amputated limb. This is the side that still controlled the intact limb.

The monkeys were then trained (with generous helpings of juice) to move a robotic arm and grasp a ball using only their thoughts. The scientists recorded the activity of neurons where the electrodes were placed, and used a statistical model to calculate how the neurons were connected to each other before the experiments, during training and once the monkeys mastered the activity.

What if you're not an amputee and just want extra limbs?

Karthikeyan Balasubramanian, et. al. Changes in cortical network connectivity with long-term brain-machine interface exposure after chronic amputation. Nature Communications, 2017; 8 (1) DOI: 10.1038/s41467-017-01909-2

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Latest North Korean Ballistic Missile Launch Puts Washington, D.C. in Range

Posted: 28 Nov 2017 08:08 PM PST

North Korea's latest missile launch appears to put Washington, D.C., in range (archive)

North Korea appears to have launched another intercontinental ballistic missile, the Pentagon said Tuesday, with experts calculating that Washington, D.C., is now technically within Kim Jong Un's reach.

[...] The missile launched early Wednesday local time traveled some 620 miles and reached a height of about 2,800 miles before landing off the coast of Japan, flying for a total of 54 minutes. This suggested it had been fired almost straight up — on a "lofted trajectory" similar to North Korea's two previous intercontinental ballistic missile tests. [...] If it had flown on a standard trajectory designed to maximize its reach, this missile would have a range of more than 8,100 miles, said David Wright, co-director of the global security program at the Union of Concerned Scientists. [...] The U.S. capital is 6,850 miles from Pyongyang.

Although it may be cold comfort, it is still unlikely that North Korea is capable of delivering a nuclear warhead to the U.S. mainland. Scientists do not know the weight of the payload the missile carried, but given the increase in range, it seems likely that it carried a very light mock warhead, Wright said. "If true, that means it would not be capable of carrying a nuclear warhead to this long distance, since such a warhead would be much heavier," he said in a blog post.

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HP Accused of Installing Spyware on Customers' Computers

Posted: 28 Nov 2017 07:27 PM PST

HP is rolling out "HP Touchpoint Analytics Service" onto computers without user consent:

Lenovo has only just settled a massive $3.5 million fine for preinstalling adware on laptops without users' consent, and now it seems HP is getting in on the stealth installation action, too. According to numerous reports gathered by Computer World, the brand is deploying a telemetry client on customer computers without asking permission.

The software -- first identified on November 15 -- is called "HP Touchpoint Analytics Service" and appears to replace the self-managed HP Touchpoint Manager solution. According to the official productivity description, it features "the tools you need to ensure all your managed devices' security -- and brings you greater peace of mind". The problem is, it's installing itself without permission and is wreaking havoc on customers' systems.

Also at Computerworld and gHacks.

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Is Technology More Distracting Than Helpful On the Road? New Study Says, Yes.

Posted: 28 Nov 2017 05:53 PM PST

Too much information:

The infotainment technology that automakers are cramming into the dashboard of new vehicles is making drivers take their eyes off the road and hands off the wheel for dangerously long periods of time, an AAA study says.

The study released Thursday is the latest by University of Utah professor David Strayer, who has been examining the impact of infotainment systems on safety for AAA's Foundation for Traffic Safety since 2013. Past studies also identified problems, but Mr. Strayer said the "explosion of technology" has made things worse.

Automakers now include more infotainment options to allow drivers to use social media, email, and text. The technology is also becoming more complicated to use. Cars used to have a few buttons and knobs. Some vehicles now have as many as 50 buttons on the steering wheel and dashboard that are multi-functional. There are touch screens, voice commands, writing pads, heads-up displays on windshields and mirrors and 3-D computer-generated images.

"It's adding more and more layers of complexity and information at drivers' fingertips without often considering whether it's a good idea to put it at their fingertips," Strayer said.

Safe following distance would solve so much...

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Health Watchdog Will Recommend That the NHS Ban Vaginal Mesh Operations

Posted: 28 Nov 2017 04:03 PM PST

Vaginal mesh operations should be banned, says NICE

The [UK] health watchdog NICE is to recommend that vaginal mesh operations should be banned from treating organ prolapse in England, the BBC's Victoria Derbyshire show has learned.

Draft guidelines from NICE say the implants should only be used for research - and not routine operations. Some implants can cut into the vagina and women have been left in permanent pain, unable to walk, work or have sex.

One expert said it is highly likely the NHS will take up the recommendation. However, the organisation is not compelled to act on findings it receives from NICE. Both NHS England and NICE declined to comment.

Also at Medical Plastics News:

In October MPs met to discuss the possibility of an inquiry into the use of mesh devices to treat organ prolapse.

The debate was led by Labour MP Emma Hardy who first heard about the mesh implants from a constituent who was left unable to work after having the device fitted.

Calls to ban the devices were rejected the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health, Jackie Doyle-Price. Responding to the requests, Doyle-Price disregarded the need for a public inquiry and said that the issue was related to clinical practice instead of the devices themselves.

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Quantum Ghost Imaging Spy Satellites

Posted: 28 Nov 2017 02:29 PM PST

Could ghost imaging spy satellite be a game changer for Chinese military?

China is developing a new type of spy satellite using ghost imaging technology that could change the game of military cat and mouse within a decade, according to scientists involved in the project.

Existing camouflage techniques – from simple smoke bombs used to hide tanks or soldiers on battlefields to the hi-tech radar absorption materials on a stealth aircraft or warship – would be of no use against ghost imaging, physics experts said.

Quantum ghost imaging can achieve unprecedented sensitivity by detecting not just the extremely small amount of light straying off a dim target, but also its interactions with other light in the surrounding environment to obtain more information than traditional methods.

A satellite equipped with the new quantum sensor would be able to identify and track targets that are currently invisible from space, such as stealth bombers taking off at night, according to researchers.

The U.S. Air Force and NASA have also researched this technology.

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Facebook Starts Global Rollout of its AI Suicide Prevention Tools

Posted: 28 Nov 2017 12:47 PM PST

Facebook is expanding its limited test run for suicide- and -self-harm reporting tools to the masses. To get better at detection the social network will begin implementing pattern recognition for posts and Live videos to detect when someone could be presenting suicidal thoughts. From there, VP of product management Guy Rosen writes that the social network will also concentrate efforts to improve alerting first responders when the need arises. Facebook will also have more humans looking at posts flagged by its algorithms.

Currently the passive/AI detection tools are only available in the US, but soon those will roll out across the globe -- European Union countries notwithstanding. In the past month, Facebook has pinged over 100 first responders about potentially fatal posts, in addition to those that were reported by someone's friends and family.

Apparently, "Are you okay?" and "Can I help?" comments are good indicators that someone might be going through a very dark moment. More than that, Rosen says that thanks to the algorithms and those phrases, Facebook has picked up on videos that might've otherwise gone unnoticed prior.

"With all the fear about how AI may be harmful in the future, it's good to remind ourselves how AI is actually helping save people's lives today," CEO Mark Zuckerberg wrote in a post on the social network.

Source: https://www.engadget.com/2017/11/27/facebook-ai-suicide-prevention-tools/

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Origami-Like Soft Robot Can Lift a Thousand Times its Own Weight

Posted: 28 Nov 2017 11:11 AM PST

Origami-like soft robot can lift 1000 times its weight

Soft robotics allow machines to move in ways which mimic living organisms, but increased flexibility usually means reduced strength, which limits its use. Now, scientists at MIT CSAIL & Harvard have developed origami-like artificial muscles that add much-needed strength to soft robots, allowing them to lift objects as much as 1,000 times their own weight using only water or air pressure. One 2.6 gram muscle is able to lift a 3 kilogram object, which is the same as a duck lifting a car.

The artificial muscles are made up of a plastic inner skeleton surrounded by air or water inside a sealed bag -- the "skin". Applying a vacuum to the inside of the bag initiates the muscle's movement, creating tension that drives the motion. No power source or human input is needed to direct the muscle, as it's guided purely by the composition of the skeleton.

In experiments, the researchers created muscles that can lift a flower off the ground, twist into a coil and contract down to 10 percent of their original size. They even made a muscle out of a water-soluble polymer, which means the technology could be used in natural setting with minimal environmental impact. Other potential applications include deep sea research, minimally invasive surgery and transformable architecture.

Also at Harvard's Wyss Institute, The Verge, LA Times, and Fast Company.

Fluid-driven origami-inspired artificial muscles (open, DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1713450114) (DX)

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