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Amazon’s Alexa Could Soon Translate Speech in Real-Time

Posted: 02 Mar 2018 09:14 AM PST

According to several close sources, as reported by Yahoo Finance, Amazon is “seriously exploring” real-time translation abilities for Alexa. The intelligent personal assistant is currently capable of deciphering single words and phrases, but with these improvements, Amazon hopes that Alexa will work seamlessly in conversations as a real-time translator.

Beyond language itself, the company wants Alexa to gain a well-rounded knowledge of the cultures in which the translated languages are spoken. By incorporating this knowledge into translation, the device could help users to communicate more respectfully and effectively.

"The cross-culture, cross-language piece is going to be big for Amazon and Alexa, and it has a lot of potential," an anonymous source told Yahoo Finance.

A real-time translator, supported by cultural understanding, could be a game-changer for travelers. Whether traveling for business, family, or pleasure, Alexa could let you know who to speak to, what is most appropriate to say, and how to say it — all in real time.

Yahoo’s anonymous sources also discussed the physical Alexa device. Instead of relying on a large home device, they expect that Alexa will be able to translate through any smart device. This would make the technology much more accessible, as anyone with any smart device would be able to use it.

The sources also expect that one day Alexa will be so advanced that a single device could translate multiple people speaking multiple different languages at the same time. While these prospects are exciting, the technology still has a long way to come before this is possible.

"To truly realize that vision, you'll want a number of things: you'll want to have it everywhere, be able to talk to it from anywhere, be able for it to do all of the things you would want an intelligent assistant do for you, and ultimately do it in a very conversational way," Amazon Vice President of Alexa, Al Lindsay, told Yahoo Finance in an interview last year.

Other companies have tried to create similar tech, with mixed to poor results. Google’s Pixel Buds fell somewhat short of expectations; they work only with the Pixel phone, and presently have trouble with both background noise and complex conversations. While Samsung’s Bixby assistant can translate text fairly well, it isn’t capable of translating full conversations yet. Skype’s in-app translator is exciting as well, but it has some issues, and wouldn’t be useful in a face-to-face conversation.

Existing translating technologies are ambitious, but not the seamless devices we’ve seen in sci-fi narratives like Star Trek. Amazon seems to hope Alexa will change that, making real-time, conversational, culturally-sensitive translation a reality.

The post Amazon’s Alexa Could Soon Translate Speech in Real-Time appeared first on Futurism.

The Marshall Islands Is Most Recent Nation to Make Crypto an Official Currency

Posted: 02 Mar 2018 09:09 AM PST

On February 26, the Republic of the Marshall Islands (R.M.I.) passed a law approving the launch of Sovereign (SOV), the first cryptocurrency issued as legal tender by a sovereign nation.

“This is a historic moment for our people, finally issuing and using our own currency, alongside the USD. It is another step of manifesting our national liberty,” said R.M.I. President Hilda C. Heine in a media release.

The R.M.I. plans to distribute SOV later in 2018 via an initial coin offering (ICO). David Paul, minister-in-assistance to President Heine, told Reuters the nation will cap SOV supply at 24 million tokens, with that number chosen in reference to the R.M.I.’s 24 municipalities. He noted that a presale for those initial coin offerings will begin “soon.”

Neema, an Israeli startup, is developing the technology to support SOV and will oversee both the presale and the coin offerings.

“SOV will mark a new era for cryptocurrency,” said Neema CEO Barak Ben-Ezer in the media release.

“SOV is about getting rid of the excuses why not to shift to crypto — it's real money, and it provides the golden path between an open ledger and total anonymity. It gives users the power to decide when and what to disclose," he added.

New Income

The timing of the R.M.I.’s decision to issue a cryptocurrency is likely linked to budgetary concerns.

The U.S. currently sends the R.M.I. $60 million in foreign aid every year, but in 2023, that figure will drop to $30 million. According to the R.M.I. media release, the nation’s entire budget is $100 million, so it stands to lose nearly a third of that budget just five years from now.

To combat the turmoil the drop in aid is likely to cause, the island nation plans to place 50 percent of what it earns via its initial coin offerings into a national trust fund.

The R.M.I. will split the rest of the money across three areas.

Between 1946 and 1958, the U.S. used the R.M.I. as a nuclear testing site, so 20 percent of the remaining funds will go toward providing citizens affected by those nuclear tests with healthcare and support.

The nation will also give 20 percent of the funds directly to R.M.I. resident-citizens in the form of SOV. Those citizen will then have the opportunity to use the crypto as a form of exchange just like they would “regular money.”

The R.M.I. will place the final 10 percent into a Green Climate Fund. The nation is highly susceptible to the negative impacts of climate change, and this fund will help it transition to clean energy and address issues like overfishing.

While it is not the first nation to dabble in cryptocurrencies, R.M.I. insists its SOV is unique, noting in the media release that Venezuela’s petrol (PTR) is not actually the nation’s legal tender. Of the other nations that have recently considered cryptocurrencies — Iran, Russia, and Israel — none have committed as much as the R.M.I. towards the initial venture.

Ultimately, the Marshall Islands could emerge as a shining example for others to follow on the road to legitimizing digital coins, or a cautionary tale illustrating what can go wrong when governments get involved with cryptocurrencies.

Disclosure: Several members of the Futurism team, including the editors of this piece, are personal investors in a number of cryptocurrency markets. Their personal investment perspectives have no impact on editorial content.

The post The Marshall Islands Is Most Recent Nation to Make Crypto an Official Currency appeared first on Futurism.

New Algorithm Lets AI Learn From Mistakes, Become a Little More Human

Posted: 02 Mar 2018 08:15 AM PST

An AI That Looks Back

In recent months, researchers at OpenAI have been focusing on developing artificial intelligence (AI) that learns better. Their machine learning algorithms are now capable of training themselves, so to speak, thanks to the reinforcement learning methods of their OpenAI Baselines. Now, a new algorithm lets their AI learn from its own mistakes, almost as human beings do.

The development comes from a new open-source algorithm called Hindsight Experience Replay (HER), which OpenAI researchers released earlier this week. As its name suggests, HER helps an AI agent “look back” in hindsight, so to speak, as it completes a task. Specifically, the AI reframes failures as successes, according to OpenAI’s blog.

“The key insight that HER formalizes is what humans do intuitively: Even though we have not succeeded at a specific goal, we have at least achieved a different one,” the researchers wrote. “So why not just pretend that we wanted to achieve this goal to begin with, instead of the one that we set out to achieve originally?”

Simply put, this means that every failed attempt as an AI works towards a goal counts as another, unintended “virtual” goal.

Think back to when you learned how to ride a bike. On the first couple of tries, you actually failed to balance properly. Even so, those attempts taught you how to not ride properly, and what to avoid when balancing on a bike. Every failure brought you closer to your goal, because that’s how human beings learn.

Rewarding Every Failure

With HER, OpenAI wants their AI agents to learn the same way. At the same time, this method will become an alternative to the usual rewards system involved in reinforcement learning models. To teach AI to learn on its own, it has to work with a rewards system: either the AI reaches its goal and gets an algorithm “cookie” or it doesn’t. Another model gives out cookies depending on how close an AI is to achieving a goal.

Both methods aren’t perfect. The first one stalls learning, because an AI either gets it or it doesn’t. The second one, on the other hand, can be quite tricky to implement, according to the IEEE Spectrum. By treating every attempt as a goal in hindsight, HER gives an AI agent a reward even when it actually failed to accomplish the specified task. This helps the AI learn faster and at a higher quality.

“By doing this substitution, the reinforcement learning algorithm can obtain a learning signal since it has achieved some goal; even if it wasn't the one that you meant to achieve originally. If you repeat this process, you will eventually learn how to achieve arbitrary goals, including the goals that you really want to achieve,” according to OpenAI’s blog.

Here’s an example of how HER works with OpenAI’s Fetch simulation.

This method doesn’t mean that HER makes it completely easier for AI agents to learn specific tasks. “Learning with HER on real robots is still hard since it still requires a significant amount of samples,” OpenAI’s Matthias Plappert told IEEE Spectrum.

In any case, as OpenAI’s simulations demonstrated, HER can be quite helpful at “encouraging” AI agents to learn even from their mistakes, pretty much as we all do — the major difference being that AIs don’t get frustrated like the rest of us feeble folks.

The post New Algorithm Lets AI Learn From Mistakes, Become a Little More Human appeared first on Futurism.

AI Cameras Are Here. Here Are Three Ways We Could Use Them.

Posted: 02 Mar 2018 06:55 AM PST

The future has arrived: cameras are gaining artificial intelligence (AI). Cameras can already connect to wi-fi, and have been an integral part of our smart devices for years, but they haven’t had “minds” of their own. Even cameras that operate as part of large-scale surveillance systems have so far remained without their own AI functionality. That is, until now.

Just this week, Google released its first AI-powered camera, Google Clips. The camera clips onto whatever you’d like and uses machine learning to automatically photograph what it “thinks” is interesting. Often photographing humans and pets, the camera responds to lighting, facial expressions, and other common traits of good photos. When it senses that something memorable is happening, the camera takes a 15-second burst photograph, ensuring that the moment is fully captured.

Initially, this might seem like the downfall of photography as we know it, and maybe even a tilt towards dystopian surveillance. But let’s explore the different ways that AI-powered cameras could be useful.

1. Unique Family Memories

Farhad Manjoo of the New York Times tested Google Clips on a family trip to Disneyland, and his experience exemplifies how AI cameras could change how we capture memories. Typically, when we take a photo at an important event or on a trip, we’ll pose or ask our loved ones to face the camera and smile. In concept, it’s fairly off-putting to think of the camera taking over that process, identifying sweet, memorable moments for us. But Manjoo said that the couple hundred short video clips that the camera took of the vacation were something special: “Aesthetically,” he wrote, “these pictures aren’t masterworks. Emotionally, they’re on a higher plane.”

By capturing images and videos that truly feel organic and candid, you might better represent the moment and the memories being made. It could also ease the anxiety of parents who don’t want to miss or forget the important, precious moments in their family’s life.

2. Security

Google Clips isn’t the only AI-powered camera making waves. In 2017, Lighthouse AI unveiled the Lighthouse security camera, which combines AI, a 24-hour video feed, and up to a month of storage for footage to keep your home safe. A homeowner can ask the camera’s AI to ping them if it sees an unfamiliar face, or to let them know if anyone enters the house at an odd hour.

As AI cameras become increasingly popular, this type of surveillance camera could become commonplace not only in homes, but also in public spaces, retailers, government buildings, and more. This could greatly boost surveillance and security, especially since Lighthouse AI’s camera boasts 1080p resolution, ensuring that what is captured is clear.

But great video security also comes with a risk of spying. Could such AI security cameras be trained to look for specific types of people, compounding existing biases? Is it easy to hack into the 24-hour video footage taken with these security cameras, or to hack into the AI and change its directive?

In terms of spying, it could also be very easy for one member of a family to use Lighthouse’s AI technology to spy on someone else in the house — whether that be looking to see if kids have friends over, if a spouse is cheating, or if their teens are sneaking out at night. For their part, Google Clips partially addresses spying concerns by not recording audio, but the issue could still exist.

3. Abuse Prevention

Lighthouse, Google Clips, and future AI-powered cameras could also be powerful tools against abuse. While humans have to set up the cameras, it could be easy to forget that they’re running. Victims could potentially even ask future iterations of AI cameras to transmit video if their abuser begins acting in an aggressive manner.

Amazon’s Alexa has already worked in this fashion, calling 911 in response to hearing a violent physical attack. Amazon Echo recordings have also been used as evidence in a murder case.

So far, there is no plan to explicitly use these devices for this purpose, but over time they could prove to be powerful tools against abusers.

Our AI Future

We walk around with smart devices all day, every day — taking photos, posting about what we’re up to, and generally informing the rest of the world of everything about us. While it might seem creepy to have a camera that photographs you when it sees fit, many of us already put our information out into the world on a daily basis. Yet that doesn’t mean there shouldn’t be a few lines drawn in the sand.

Given that artificial intelligence may present some unique challenges to humankind (to say the least), it’s best to anticipate privacy and security dangers before they become widespread. Indeed, it’s possible that the benefits of AI cameras may be maximized by regulation that keeps their artificial brains in check.

The post AI Cameras Are Here. Here Are Three Ways We Could Use Them. appeared first on Futurism.

This Week in Science: Feb 24 – Mar 2, 2018

Posted: 02 Mar 2018 04:00 AM PST

What Does It Take to Drive a Laser Cross-Country? A Lot, It Turns Out.

Posted: 01 Mar 2018 02:52 PM PST

Last month, NASA took a key component of its $96.6 million Ice, Cloud and land Elevation Satellite-2 (ICESat-2) on a cross-country road trip.

That component, called the Advanced Topographic Laser Altimeter System (ATLAS), is a laser that measures precisely how long it takes for light particles to bounce off the Earth and return to the satellite. ATLAS was designed, constructed, and tested at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. But it needed to travel some 2,000 miles to reach the Orbital ATK’s facility in Gilbert, Arizona, where it will be attached to the ICESat-2.

Previously, NASA has flown equipment from one side of the country to the other — the Curiosity rover, for instance, took an Air Force C-17 transport plane when it traveled from California to Florida prior to its 2011 launch. However, the Smart Car-sized ATLAS required special procedures to ensure it arrived intact, which meant flying was not an option.

NASA technicians attached probes to the laser in order to monitor its temperature, humidity, and the strength of vibrations affecting it throughout the journey. ATLAS was then wrapped in two layers of anti-electrostatic discharge film to prevent shocks.

A full convoy made the journey: A scout car that checked for accidents or debris, the transport truck that followed a quarter-mile behind, a trail vehicle, and other support cars. The journey was further complicated by convoy logistics — the group couldn’t drive through state capitals or large cities at rush hour, they couldn’t drive at night without special approvals, and they required further permits for certain stretches of road. The high maintenance road trip lasted more than four and a half days.

Quality assurance personnel and technicians traveled in a support car, monitoring the environment inside the truck in real-time. ATLAS is so sensitive that they needed to adjust the interior airflow to ensure that dust particles didn’t settle on the instrument.

Now safely in Arizona, ATLAS will soon be mounted on the ICESat-2 and undergo further testing before the completed satellite is delivered to Vandenberg Air Force Base in California and sent into orbit.

The post What Does It Take to Drive a Laser Cross-Country? A Lot, It Turns Out. appeared first on Futurism.

Cities Can Now Ban Diesel Vehicles, German Court Says

Posted: 01 Mar 2018 02:49 PM PST

The Capital of Air Pollution

A German court has ruled that cities are now allowed to ban diesel vehicles. While the measure is not compulsory, the court encouraged two cities in particular, Duesseldorf and Stuttgart, to take this option seriously as part of their anti pollution plans. In Stuttgart, known as the “German capital of air pollution”, the concentration of  harmful nanoparticles regularly exceeds the legal limits, much more often than in any other city in the country.

However, it remains unclear whether the ban will benefit a country where diesel-powered vehicles are viewed as a better alternative to gas-powered ones. One problem is that cities are not required to compensate drivers who choose to give up their diesel-powered cars. Reuters also notes that the ban could ultimately lead to the end of the combustion engine, a creation Germans take great pride in due to the engine being a local invention.

Unsurprisingly, German automakers such as Daimler, Volkswagen, and BMW are concerned about the ruling, arguing that adjustments made to diesel cars could be expensive for customers and industries. However, Germany’s Environment Minister Barbara Hendricks said that bans could be avoided if carmakers agreed to contribute towards upgrading old diesel systems.

"The problem was caused by carmakers and we should not release them from their responsibility," said Hendricks, as reported by Reuters.

Could Paris Follow?

German cities aren’t the only ones facing a vehicle ban. Rome’s mayor, Virginia Raggi, announced that the Italian city is also committing to banning diesel vehicles by 2024. “If we want to intervene seriously, we have to have the courage to adopt strong measures," Raggi said via her Facebook page. CBC News writes that European cities Copenhagen and Paris will be keeping a close eye on how Germany’s ban progresses while ironing out their own plans; Paris announced in October it aims to ban all non-electric cars by 2030.

While banning diesel engines will be good for air quality in Germany’s most polluted cities, the measure is unlikely to have a positive impact on the country’s broader environmental targets. With an economy still heavily reliant on coal, Germany is poised to miss the goal of reducing carbon emissions by 40 percent from 1990 levels by 2020. This is also due to the country’s strong growth and the decision to phase out nuclear power, all factors that interventions such as a moratorium on diesel cars are not going to offset.

In the face of such a mighty challenge, banning polluting vehicles, introducing hydrogen-powered trains and offering free public transportation could be seen as little more than good PR. But taken together, they show an enduring commitment to reducing the country’s environmental footprint. Maybe coal mines will be next.

The post Cities Can Now Ban Diesel Vehicles, German Court Says appeared first on Futurism.

Three Reasons Scientists Are Freaked out by Crazy-High Arctic Temperatures

Posted: 01 Mar 2018 02:40 PM PST

Extreme Weather

In February, Arctic temperatures soared high above the usual ranges, reaching up to 20 degrees Celsius (36 degrees Fahrenheit) higher than average. David Phillips, a senior climatologist with Environment Canada, told CBC News that temperatures in Canada’s Far North showed similar spikes, hitting about 10 to 12 degrees Celsius (18 to 21.6 degrees Fahrenheit) higher than usual.

From February 16 though February 18, the temperature in Alert, Nunavut, the northernmost permanently inhabited place on Earth, hit a daily high of -7 degrees Celsius (19.4 degrees Fahrenheit), -4.7 degrees Celsius (23.5 degrees Fahrenheit), and -10 degrees Celsius (14 degrees Fahrenheit), respectively.

Our Warming World: The Future of Climate Change [INFOGRAPHIC]
Click to View Full Infographic

Normal highs at this time of the year are usually -30 degrees Celsius (-22 degrees Fahrenheit), according to Phillips.

“That has literally smashed the previous record,” he told CBC News. “So we’re dealing with temperatures here that were as much as 25 degrees warmer than they should have been at that time of the year.”

Here are three reasons these Arctic temperatures have climate scientists like Phillips concerned for the future of the whole planet – not just the Far North.

1. They’re Not Random.

As Phillips noted, these temperatures are way outside the expected range. Sure, Arctic temperatures sometimes fluctuate and spike, but this year’s numbers are far outside the historical average. Even more worrisome is the fact that the hot spells also last longer and occur more frequently than in the past.

“In 50 years of Arctic reconstructions, the current warming event is both the most intense and one of the longest-lived warming events ever observed during winter,” Robert Rohde, lead scientist of climate science nonprofit Berkeley Earth, told The Guardian.

Daily mean temperature in the Arctic, 1958-2002, compared to numbers for 2018. Credit: Danish Meteorological Institute

High temperatures aren’t limited to one place, either. In Siberia, temperatures are reaching upwards of 35 degrees Celsius (63 degrees Fahrenheit) over historical ranges.

Meanwhile, Greenland has had 61 hours of above-freezing temperatures this year, which is roughly three times as many hours as 2017. “Going back to the late 1950s at least, we have never seen such high temperatures in the high Arctic,” said Ruth Mottram of the Danish Meteorological Institute, also speaking to The Guardian.

2. They’re Linked to Bigger Environmental Changes.

The natural barriers that have historically prevented too much warming in the Arctic are changing, and these warmer Arctic temperatures are a symptom of those changes.

Experts believe the northern polar vortex – the system of powerful low-pressure winds that kept the frozen north insulated – could be eroding or shifting southwards, thereby sucking in more warm air from the south and causing the polar jet stream to go “loopy,” as Walt Meier, a senior research scientist at the National Snow and Ice Data Center in Colorado, put it in an interview with CBC News.

The polar jet stream normally flows from west to east, but occasionally, it turns, sending cold air out of the Arctic and bringing warmer air in. This behavior can result in extreme weather behavior beyond the Arctic, such as the colder temperatures currently plaguing Europe.

The frequency and intensity of these events has increased in recent years. “The last three or four years, they’ve had at least one of these events where the North Pole region or very close to the North Pole actually gets above freezing sometime in the middle of winter, which is really pretty remarkable because there’s no sunlight there,” Meier explained to CBC News.

3. They’re Disrupting Ecosystems.

All of these changes in the Arctic aren’t just harming the environment. They’re also damaging the region’s ecosystems and human communities.

Northern Canada’s Inuit, for example, depend on the environment for their livelihood, as well as other cultural activities. “Because Inuit and people living in the Arctic are so closely tied to the land…it has a huge impact,” Trevor Bell, a geography professor at the Memorial University of Newfoundland, told CBC News.

These extreme weather conditions can affect everything from these communities’ food supplies to their ability to travel. They can also harm their mental and physical health. “These unpredictable extreme events or unpredictable ice conditions cause people to have accidents on the ice, maybe leading to trauma,” said Bell.

While the weather changes of the past several years are noteworthy, some are remaining conservative with their estimates of how they’ll affect the region in the long term. “This is too short-term an excursion to say whether or not it changes the overall projections for Arctic warming,” Michael Mann, direct of Pennsylvania State University’s Earth System Science Center, told The Guardian.

However, the potential impact of these extreme warming events can’t be ignored. “[T]hose initial warming events can trigger even greater warming because of the ‘feedback loops’ associated with the melting of ice and the potential release of methane (a very strong greenhouse gas),” said Mann.

If that happens, we could see rising sea levels and higher temperatures everywhere, putting societies across the globe in harm’s way.

The post Three Reasons Scientists Are Freaked out by Crazy-High Arctic Temperatures appeared first on Futurism.

Voice Ordering Is The “Most Disruptive” Shopping Trend

Posted: 01 Mar 2018 02:11 PM PST

Disappearing Brands

Branding is a vital part of any company’s marketing strategy. Until recently, visual presence has been one of the largest, if not the largest, factors in a company’s brand — but Amazon Alexa and other voice assistants are drastically changing the ways consumers encounter products.

Graeme Pitkethly, chief financial officer of Unilever (owner of such brands as Dove, Lipton, and Axe) recently told the Wall Street Journal, "Of all the disruptions that are taking place in all the things technology is bringing into our space, voice is among the most disruptive.”

Companies spend big money on buying up shelf space in the stores of leading retailers, to ensure their products are at the forefront of a consumer’s shopping experience. Yet increasingly, customers are no longer putting themselves in front of physical products before purchasing them.

An Amazon Alexa digital assistant: a circular black device with a red lit ring around it, featuring power, microphone/mute, and volume increase/decrease buttons.
Image source: HeikoAL/Pixabay

This kind of brand exposure has already been dwindling with the advent of online shopping. Rather than scanning rows of meticulously designed product containers and labels in a brick and mortar store, most user interaction with products is relegated to the span of a few hundred pixels. Even that is beginning to disappear, as more users are turning to voice ordering through the Amazon Alexa platform and its competitors, removing the visual aspect almost entirely from the shopping experience.

Digital Disruption

Right now, brands cannot pay Amazon to prioritize their products. This goes contrary to longstanding practices where companies could pay more money to have their products featured more than others.

Amazon’s recommendations for customers who do not specify brand-specific products are currently based on the company’s proprietary “Amazon’s Choice” algorithm, which leverages a machine learning model to discern what products a customer most likely wants. The use of machine learning allows the system to learn with each customer interaction, with the goal of increasing efficiency and satisfaction.

While it will be interesting to see how brands adapt to this marketing paradigm shift, a great deal of the power in the area of voice shopping is held squarely in Amazon’s hands. The company has unparalleled access and influence over the buying patterns of its customers. Hopefully, Amazon’s algorithms are capable of remaining unbiased.

The post Voice Ordering Is The “Most Disruptive” Shopping Trend appeared first on Futurism.

What Is “Superblood,” and Why Do I Want It?

Posted: 01 Mar 2018 01:44 PM PST

Much like doctors are using modified T-cells from patients’ immune systems to fight cancer, biotech startup Rubius Therapeutics is aiming to develop targeted disease therapy using red blood cells. Business Insider reports that Rubius’ CEO, Torben Straight Nissen, believes their treatment is “basically superblood,” since their treatments are made using red blood cells rather than chemicals or synthetic materials.

Rubius plans to equip red blood cells with a therapeutic protein that can be tailored to treat a particular condition. Afterwards, they’re infused into the body to begin treating the patient’s condition. Ultimately, this superblood will only account for less than 1 percent of the total amount of blood in a patient’s body.

Initially, the company wants to develop superblood therapies that replace missing enzymes in patients suffering from rare diseases, as well as treat cancer and autoimmune disorders like lupus and type 1 diabetes. Unlike T-cell therapy, however, red blood cell therapies don’t need to be as personalized. On their site, Rubius claims they’d only need one universal donor (someone with an O negative blood type) to “generate enough therapeutic doses to treat hundreds to thousands of different patients.”

Rubius is seemingly on track to meet their goals, as it recently finished raising $100 million. This follows the $120 million the company raised in June 2017 from investors.

"The addition of this funding further strengthens our foundation and enables us to accelerate the development of our first wave of Red-Cell Therapeutics (RCT) products that are targeting treatment of enzyme deficiencies, cancer and autoimmune disease," said Nissen in a press statement. "We have assembled an extremely talented team of investors, leadership and advisers, which all share the long-term vision of bringing novel cellular therapies to patients."

It may be some time before Rubius’ treatments are widely available; after all, they’re currently not much more than a concept. First, these treatments have to be developed, then put through a series of clinical trials to determine their effectiveness. If everything goes well, the superblood could eventually be approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, just as T-cell therapy was last year.

The post What Is “Superblood,” and Why Do I Want It? appeared first on Futurism.

Crypto Companies, Take Notice: The SEC Is Coming to Regulate

Posted: 01 Mar 2018 01:38 PM PST

The United States Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) is diving into the murky waters of cryptocurrency and initial coin offerings (ICOs). According to The Wall Street Journal, the SEC has “issued scores of subpoenas and information requests” asking tech companies to fill them in on their ICO dealings.

The SEC is responsible for maintaining “fair, orderly, and efficient” markets for investors, and given that investors have pumped an estimated $8.7 billion into ICOs — a thus-far unregulated way for cryptocurrency startups to raise funds — it was only a matter of time before the commission took a closer look at the practice.

Depending on who you ask, the exact number of subpoenas and information requests varies. CoinDesk reports the figure could be anywhere from about 80 to hundreds. “They are shotgunning these. We’ve been warning people about this for months now,” one lawyer, who wished to remain anonymous, told CoinDesk.

We don’t yet know which companies have received those requests. However, at least one has stepped out of the shadows: online furniture company Overstock.com, which plans to use an ICO to raise $250 million for its crypto subsidiary, tZero.

“While the SEC is trying to determine whether there have been any violations of the federal securities laws, the investigation does not mean that the SEC has concluded that anyone has violated the law," Overstock wrote in a formal notice to investors. "Also, the investigation does not mean that the SEC has a negative opinion of any person, entity, or security."

Despite Overstock’s assurances, the value of the company’s shares dipped in the aftermath of the announcement. If an SEC inquiry can shake public trust in a company as big as Overstock, such probes into smaller companies or startups might be enough to leave them dead in the water.

The value of bitcoin, the world’s largest crypto and one far beyond the ICO stage, even dropped after news of the SEC inquiries broke.

Still, the SEC’s mission is to ensure investors aren’t ripped off, and a number of ICOs have done just that. These subpoenas and information requests could prevent unscrupulous companies from moving forward with their ICOs while providing the SEC with the information needed to craft regulations that protect investors in the future.

Cryptocurrencies have the potential to improve nearly every aspect of our world, and ultimately, this temporary agitation of the market could bring us one step closer to that crypto-supported future. After all, if the SEC is looking into ICOs and crypto, it at least means they’re taking them seriously.

Disclosure: Several members of the Futurism team, including the editors of this piece, are personal investors in a number of cryptocurrency markets. Their personal investment perspectives have no impact on editorial content.

The post Crypto Companies, Take Notice: The SEC Is Coming to Regulate appeared first on Futurism.

Sensors and AI Could Lead to Instruments Controlled by Dancing

Posted: 01 Mar 2018 01:22 PM PST

Sensors enable a dancer to play the piano using only dance moves.

The post Sensors and AI Could Lead to Instruments Controlled by Dancing appeared first on Futurism.

Your Next Television May Be Super-Flexible and Entirely Portable

Posted: 01 Mar 2018 01:07 PM PST

Finally, a television display you can roll up and take with you.

The post Your Next Television May Be Super-Flexible and Entirely Portable appeared first on Futurism.

Tesla’s Autonomous Semi Truck Spotted On California Highway

Posted: 01 Mar 2018 12:41 PM PST

Tesla’s all-electric semi truck isn’t supposed to go into production until 2019, but multiple prototypes have already been spotted driving around California.

The first on-road sighting was in January, near Sunnyvale. Now, a little over a month later, there’s been another appearance of the near-silent semi. But this time it’s been spotted in a much more interesting location: A highway that connects Tesla's Fremont factory to its Gigafactory 1 (G1) in Sparks, Nevada.

Driver Vlad Fed recorded his recent encounter with the semi truck in Sacramento, approximately 102.9 miles away from the Fremont facility and 157.3 miles away from G1, according to Teslarati. Considering the semi truck is said to have a range of 500 miles, it should be able to make the trip between the two destinations quite easily.

We can infer the semi’s route is between the two Tesla locations based on a few bits of information: The first clue is that, in 2017, Tesla sought approval to test its semis in both Nevada and California.

Secondly, Inverse reported that Tesla executive Jerome Guillen said last year the trucks would be used to move cargo from one company site to another. What’s more, Tesla CEO Elon Musk said in an earnings call last month that the company itself would be the first to utilize the autonomous semis — to carry Model 3 components from G1 to the Fremont factory.

Regardless of this latest prototype’s route and function, it’s clear Tesla is putting their latest semis to the test before integrating them into the business, and it’s exciting to see more autonomous vehicles in action.

As seen in Vlad Fed’s video, though, the truck wasn’t carrying any cargo, implying this was a simple field test, or its cargo had already been unloaded elsewhere. Perhaps the next sighting will have a trailer attached — a clear sign that Tesla’s testing is progressing smoothly.

The post Tesla’s Autonomous Semi Truck Spotted On California Highway appeared first on Futurism.

3 Reasons Why It’s a Good Idea to Resurrect a Species

Posted: 01 Mar 2018 12:38 PM PST

This week scientists at Harvard University announced that they had assembled a nearly complete genome of the little bush moa. Never spotted one of these at your backyard feeder? Well, neither has anyone else alive today: the flightless bird has been extinct for about 700 years.

But if scientists get their way, that could soon change. Assembling the complete genome of the moa — and those of other long-gone creatures like the woolly mammoth, passenger pigeons, or even our Neanderthal cousins — is the first step in bringing those species back to life. Or at least, scientists’ closest approximation.

The researchers first got their hands on the moa DNA by extracting it from a big toe of a museum specimen, they told Stat News.

Using modern technology to revive extinct species is known simply as “de-extinction,” though the process is not what you’d call simple.

It's like putting together a jigzaw puzzle that has 900 million pieces. And is still missing some. And you don't have the picture on the box. But you have a puzzle that's similar as reference.

The key components of all species’ DNA are nucleotides: adenine, cytosine, guanine, and thymine — noted by the letters A, C, G, and T, respectively. The Harvard team started with 900 million of the moa’s nucleotides to start piecing together its entire genome (they aren’t saying how many they needed for a complete genome). Using the genome of a modern bird relative, the emu, to fill in the blanks, the researchers were able to piece together about 85 percent of the bird’s genome  on par with the genomes of other extinct species.

Once scientists organize the genome, the next step is deciding how to best attempt to revive the species. Researchers can opt for “backbreeding,” a process in which they take a closely related species and selectively breed it until they produce something akin to the extinct species. If the species hasn’t been extinct for very long and researchers have a sample from, perhaps, the last living member, cloning may also be a viable option. The third option — using genetic engineering — is relatively new. With an accurate assembly of an extinct species’ genetic data, researchers can inject them into an egg of a living species that’s genetically close to the one they’re attempting to bring back to life.

Resurrection Biology: All About De-Extinction
Click to View Full Infographic

So bringing species back from the dead is feasible, if improbable and resource-intensive. But the question remains: why revive extinct species at all? If we’ve learned anything from Jurassic Park (which, let’s be honest, we all have) it’s that “just because we can, doesn’t mean we should.” Here are some reasons that scientists have used to justify their work.

To Improve Our Science

Every time scientists make sense of an extinct species’ genetic information, they get better at doing it. Yes, the human researchers improve, but so do the computer algorithms that help them parse out the data. With each attempt, researchers learn more about the sequencing process, and can train the technology to perform its tasks more accurately and efficiently. And the genomes researchers are reconstructing now could be useful for assembling the DNA of other species in the future. Little by little, they’re assembling a genetic Rolodex for nearly every species on Earth.

Science for science’s sake is a noble effort, but there are also many arguments for “resurrection biology,” which frame the effort as being less about the de-extinction of species that have been lost to us, and more about preventing the extinction of endangered species.

To Save Endangered Species

As humans have taken up more space and resources, we’ve destroyed natural habitats and endangered species. Many of those species eventually go extinct, pushing biodiversity levels below the "safe" threshold — the level at which the ecosystems can regenerate and sustain us — around the globe. The less biodiversity in an ecosystem, the greater chance species after species will go extinct.

We’ll feel the effects of biodiversity loss, especially when it comes to plants. The medications that we take are produced from or with plant extracts; the textiles and fabrics that we use in our clothing, and much of what we eat, all come from plant species. Plants depend the animals and insects in their environments for pollination and propagation. In return, those critters rely on crops for nutrition and housing just as we do. If those pollinators go extinct, the plants — and the species, like us, that rely on those plants —also go extinct.

Animals That Went Extinct In The 21st Century [Infographic]
Click to View Full Infographic

Some species, called keystone species, are more important than others in maintaining that biodiversity. The passenger pigeon, for example, (a relatively recent extinction and thus a good candidate for resurrection) shaped many of North America’s forests. When the species was lost, the forests lost the main driver of their regulation cycle and have never been the same.

Reviving extinct keystone species, then, could help us preserve biodiversity, and, possibly, the ecosystems as a whole.

To Preserve the Planet

Bringing now-dead species back to life might help Earth survive in the long run. At least, that’s what Beth Shapiro, a biologist at the University of California, Santa Cruz, thinks. Shapiro has worked on several de-extinction projects (including the moa’s). In a 2015 interview with Smithsonian Magazine, Shapiro said she believed that land conservation efforts are simply not enough to preserve the planet. Much of the world’s biodiversity has been lost as a result of human interference: either directly via practices like deforestation, or indirectly, through our refusal to accept the realities of climate change.

If we want to get an idea of what happens to the world’s ecosystems after a major climate shift, we need not look further than previous extinction events. The woolly mammoth, for example, used to fertilize the grasslands of Siberia; after it went extinct, the entire region became icy and barren.

“De-extinction may not be the answer to the biodiversity crisis that we are facing today, but the technologies that are being developed in the name of de-extinction may become powerful new tools in an active conservation regime,” Shapiro told Smithsonian. “Why not provide populations a little bit of genomic assistance so they can survive in a world that is changing too quickly for natural evolutionary processes to keep up?”

Considering that humans have, for millennia, pushed out species that were here long before us… that seems like the very least we could do.

The post 3 Reasons Why It’s a Good Idea to Resurrect a Species appeared first on Futurism.

Uber Wants to Take You to the Doctor

Posted: 01 Mar 2018 12:10 PM PST

Uber Health

On March 1, Uber announced a new service that will transport users to and from healthcare facilities. The platform, Uber Health, will allow healthcare providers to assign rides for their patients — ensuring they can access care and are safely returning home. The ride-hailing service can operate solely through text message, guaranteeing access for those without smart devices.

This platform, which has an official partnership with healthcare organizations, will give patients the option to schedule their own rides or have rides scheduled for them. Users will also be able to schedule rides up to 30 days in advance.

A hand holding a smart phone with the Uber app open. A smart phone will not be necessary to schedule a ride with Uber Health.
Users will be able to schedule rides without a smart phone. Image Credit: freestocks-photos / pixabay

To ensure that patients’ private medical information is secure, Uber is partnering with Clearwater Compliance — a leading Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) risk-management company. However, Uber’s history of supposedly ignoring privacy rules and hiding data breaches might cause some distrust.

The Ride-Hailing Race

Uber Health will also have some other issues to address for its new services, such as whether or not it will be equipped to transport patients with disabilities. (The company hasn’t yet said if it will.) People with disabilities have had longstanding issues accessing public transportation, traditional taxis, and ride-hailing services. If Uber Health doesn’t train its drivers properly or include vehicles designed to accommodate wheelchairs, walking aids, people with difficulties communicating verbally, and other aspects of disability, the platform will not serve a huge portion of the population who could benefit from it most.

As this service has only just been announced, it is possible that Uber will address such shortcomings. If successful, Uber Health could potentially put Uber back on the map after the company’s recent fall from popularity. As Lyft’s shares climbed in 2017, Uber’s dropped. Uber also lost hundreds of thousands of users to the #deleteUber campaign, which arose from the company’s perceived involvement with an anti-Muslim initiative.

Uber Health could therefore do a lot to redeem the company’s public image, and position them as more attentive to security and inclusivity. But the company will have to work hard to get there. On top of Uber’s PR issues, they’re not even the only ride-hailing service for health care; Lyft announced their own healthcare transportation partnership, with appointment-scheduling service Hitch Health, a little over a week before Uber’s.

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Human Bacteria: An Unlikely Shield Against Skin Cancer

Posted: 01 Mar 2018 11:58 AM PST

A common skin bacteria could be the next tool against cancer, scientists have discovered.

Researchers at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) were screening a strain of the familiar bacteria Staphylococcus epidermidis, to explore its ability to attack harmful bacteria — and found it has the potential to do much more than that.

This particular skin microbe fights off its enemies by producing a substance — called 6-N-hydroxyaminopurine (6-HAP for short) — that prevents its target’s DNA from replicating, the researchers observed. Fascinated by the these properties, they decided to test whether it could be put to other uses.

Study co-author Richard Gallo from UCSD told the The Guardian, "[…] When we identified the nature of the chemical produced by this strain, we proceeded with experiments to determine if it might have activity against tumors.”

Gallo added that the bacteria strain might be used therapeutically to inhibit the growth of various forms of cancer.

His team, which recently published its findings in the journal Science Advances, tested the hypothesis on animals, administering the 6-HAP substance for two weeks to a group of mice affected by a type of skin cancer.

The treated mice developed tumors that were roughly 60 percent smaller than their counterparts that had not received the treatment. 6-HAP also seemed to protect the animals from the damages associated with exposure to ultraviolet light — they developed smaller tumors, and a greater number of mice didn’t get sick at all. Gallo and his team were also encouraged by the fact that the substance also did not seem harmful to the animals.

“This unique strain of skin bacteria produces a chemical that kills several types of cancer cells but does not appear to be toxic to normal cells,” he told MedicalNewsToday.

According to the American Academy of Dermatology, skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the U.S. One in five Americans will develop the disease in their lifetime; 9,500 people that are diagnosed with the condition every day in the U.S. alone. Gallo’s work adds to a growing body of research that provides medical professionals with inroads to additional options for skin cancer treatment.

Julian Marchesi, professor of human microbiome research at Cardiff University, who was unaffiliated with the study, was excited by these findings. He told The Guardian, “The next stage of this exciting work will be to translate it to human clinical trials and show that this bacterially produced chemical can protect the host from skin cancer."

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New Crime-Predicting AI May Be Prone to Bias Just Like Humans

Posted: 01 Mar 2018 11:47 AM PST

On Data, Crime, and AI

An artificial intelligence (AI) designed to help investigate gang crimes has worried experts in the field about its serious ethical implications.

The algorithm, which was presented in February at the Artificial Intelligence, Ethics, and Society (AIES) conference in New Orleans, Louisiana, is meant to help police fight crime, but it could not be immune from mistakes traditionally falling in the realm of “human error.”

Predictive policing, the practice of using computer algorithms to determine where and when the next crime is likely to happen using data on previous criminal activity, is not new. The new AI, however, is the first that focuses on gang-related violence.

It’s essentially a machine learning algorithm, built on a so-called “partially generative neural network.” This means that the system can reach conclusions with less information than would normally be needed to achieve the same result. The AI was designed to only look at four particular details from a crime scene: what the main weapon was, how many suspects were present, the neighborhood, and exact location where the crime happened.

The researchers trained their algorithm using data from the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) on 50,000 gang-related and non-gang-related homicides, aggravated assaults, and robberies from 2014 to 2016. They then tested it using another set of LAPD data.

Because it is partially generative — which is the innovative side of this research — the AI could work even without an officer’s narrative summary of a crime, a gap it fills using the four factors mentioned. Putting the pieces together, the AI determines whether a crime was likely gang-related or not. Compared to a toned-down version of this method, the partially generative AI minimized errors by up to 30 percent, according to the paper presented at the AIES conference.

Questions of Objectivity

"This is almost certainly a well-intended piece of work,” Google software engineer Blake Lemoine, who was among the audience, told Science. “But have the researchers considered the possible unintended side effects?" Sure, it could help identify gang-related crimes, but an imperfection in the system may mean it could also frame an innocent person. Other experts voiced similar ethical concerns during the conference’s Q&A.

Observers also worry about the potential for bias, an important aspect of the ethical implications of this particular AI. Data used in predictive policing methods, as one commentator told The New York Times, can be skewed, especially when it comes to identifying particular communities as crime “hot spots.” Since machine learning makes decisions using the data it’s trained on, its conclusions could reflect this bias.

AI have been found to be prone to bias in the past. For example, one AI used in custodial decisions in the United Kingdom, turned out to be discriminating against the poor. While many hope that AI could be a more objective partner when it comes to police investigations, it’s actually not immune from mistakes commonly believed to be inherently human.

While an AI able to predict gang crime may be an interesting idea, not even the app’s developers are completely confident about its potential applications. "It's kind of hard to say at the moment," University of California, Los Angeles anthropologist Jeffrey Brantingham, one of the researchers, acknowledged in an interview with Science. Given how similar AI have ended up reinforcing biases — racial or social — and promoting discriminatory behavior, this work could benefit from more research before being employed in real life. At the moment, the ethical considerations seem to outweigh this AI’s practical applications.

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Which Electric Sports Car Is Right for You, Porsche or Tesla?

Posted: 01 Mar 2018 11:35 AM PST

Electric, Expensive, and Really Fast

Electric vehicles (EVs) are no longer a niche interest. Some of the world’s biggest vehicle manufacturers are jumping on the bandwagon, anticipating that gas- and diesel-powered cars, semi trucks, and even luxury yachts will be a thing of the past in the not-too-distant future. Of course, long before all these manufacturers got in the EV game, Tesla was building a name in it, starting with an electric sports car: the Roadster.

The car was one of the first examples of an electric car designed to sit comfortably alongside the MX-5s and the Testarossas of the world. Tesla produced the original Roadster between 2008 and 2012, but the company recently announced plans to start selling a new Roadster in 2020.

A lot has changed since 2008, though, and Tesla is no longer the only company producing high-end electric vehicles. Porsche has plans to combine their legendary design sensibilities with environmentally conscious combustion via the Mission E. The company first unveiled this electric sports car in 2015, and the vehicle is expected to hit the market a year prior to the new Roadster.

Here’s how the two luxury autos stack up.

Price

Porsche is cheaper, but let’s get one thing straight: neither of these vehicles is budget-friendly. The Porsche Mission E will run $85,000, which isn’t surprising given the brand’s luxury status. Meanwhile, the Tesla Roadster’s base price is a whopping $200,000.

Acceleration

Tesla is on top. According to Porsche, the Mission E will be able to accelerate from 0 to 97 kmh (0 to 60 mph) in under 3.5 seconds. Tesla says that the new Roadster can manage 0 to 97 kmh (0 to 60 mph) in just 1.9 seconds, but Porsche isn’t impressed with this stat.

“The thing about [Tesla’s] Ludicrous mode is that it’s a façade. Two launches saps the whole battery,” a Porsche product manager told Automobile Magazine. “That won’t be the case with the Mission E. You’ll be able to run it hard, over and over; the battery will not overheat, the power control module will not overheat, and the seats will not suck.”

Range

Tesla goes further. On a full charge, Porsche estimates that the Mission E can travel around 482 kilometers (300 miles). That isn’t too shabby for an EV in general, but it’s well below the Roadster’s range, which Tesla promises will be 997 kilometers (620 miles).

Charge Time

Porsche prevails, but this win comes with an asterisk.

Tesla hasn’t released information about the Roadster’s charge time, but their 480-watt Supercharger stations need around 75 minutes to fully charge a Model S. Porsche is touting an 800-watt charging station that needs just 15 minutes to replenish the Mission E’s battery enough for the electric sports car to travel 250 miles.

Porsche plans to install their 800-watt chargers at dealerships around the country, but they’ll need time for build a charging infrastructure that can match Tesla’s. In the interim, owners can charge their Mission Es at stations that uses a lower wattage, but that will take longer.

Proven Ability to Leave Earth’s Atmosphere

Tesla wins this one, but we should note the Roadster in space is a 2008 version. Still, if the old model can handle a launch aboard a rocket, the new one should be able to, too. Until Porsche expands into off-world exploration, Musk has the German automaker beat with regard to sending cars into space.

The post Which Electric Sports Car Is Right for You, Porsche or Tesla? appeared first on Futurism.

Got Crypto? Be Careful How You File Your Taxes

Posted: 01 Mar 2018 11:30 AM PST

YOU KNOW THE OMINOUS FEELING that comes with wayward glances at a calendar any time after January 1st—it starts as an inkling, and then, grows into something darker by the week, the closer you get to April 15th. And now, Tax Day, as ever, looms large.

But this year, perhaps, is a bit different from the last few—you’ve got a bit of money invested in cryptocurrency. And though currencies like Bitcoin, Ethereum, and Ripple are poised to transform the financial system (not to mention your bank account), where it concerns your taxes, regulations concerning crypto aren’t quite “there” yet.

So, where are they?

[Before we get into the answer, a quick caveat: we here at Futurism Dot Com aren’t remotely close to tax professionals. Honesty, even Certified Public Accountants (CPAs) and Enrolled Agents (EAs) — the people you pay to handle your taxes — aren’t totally sure how to approach some aspects of cryptos. Basically what we’re saying is — not that you would — but we’re telling you, explicitly, not to use this article as a definitive source of information on this matter. Like you, we hate doing our taxes, so we’re definitely not doing yours. Also, because we like you: Please, please, please, for the love of god and your freedom from a minimum security prison, consult a professional before you file your taxes.]

One of the most appealing aspects of cryptocurrency, you may be thinking, is its anonymity. Doesn't that mean the government can't find my money? you might think. And, well, not exactly. For one, Bitcoin isn't all that anonymous. The parties on either end of a transaction are marked with pseudonyms. And it's not that hard to link your pseudonym to your actual identity. Online vigilantes have unmasked extremist groups receiving donations via crypto; organizations such as Chainalysis, recently featured on an episode of the internet-focused podcast Reply All, specialize in making these connections, identifying crypto traders in a matter of minutes.

The government has, as you may expect, caught onto this. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has employed the services of some companies (including Chainalysis) to hunt down tax-dodgers, according to the Daily Beast.

So, chances are that you shouldn’t take your chances with paying taxes on your crypto. Try to dodge, and chances are the government will find you.

cryptocurrency and tax files
Image by Emily Cho

Rules, Rules, Rules

But what this all means for you also depends on how the government considers cryptocurrency. The IRS, in its infinite wisdom, actually provides some (limited) guidance on the issue. In April 2014, the IRS released the only official rules on what it calls “virtual currencies” — tax lingo for crypto. "For federal tax purposes, virtual currency is treated as property," the document reads. To the government, crypto exists somewhere between currency and investment.

"[The IRS] would say it can’t be a currency because it’s not backed by a government," Wendy Coggins, EA and founder of Virtual Tax Incorporated, told Futurism. "Regular people would say it’s obviously it’s an investment [as in] I'm investing in these new companies and I’m putting my hard-earned savings in there and I’m hoping to get a return on my investment."

To rectify this difference, the IRS calls them "property" which, unlike investments, can be both held for profit and exchanged (at least, that's the case before FY2018—the new tax law specifically excluding cryptocurrency from exchanged commodities).

Since Bitcoin and other virtual currencies are considered property, that means you pay capital gains taxes on any income you made from them. There are two types of capital gains that determine the rate you’ll be taxed at: short-term capital gains are for property that has been held for less than one year, while long-term capital gains covers anything held over a year. Short-term rates are usually taxed at the same rate as your income, while the rates on long-term holdings vary between zero and 20 percent, depending on your tax bracket.

How you acquired your cryptocurrency and what you've done with it affect how you pay taxes on it. A few examples:

  • If you mined your crypto, get paid for your work in it, or run a company with a product purchased via cryptocurrency, then you'll probably be treating these gains as ordinary income.
  • If, like many people new to crypto, you bought your coins for investment purposes, then things get a little more complicated.
  • Bought bitcoin and have not exchanged it for any other goods, services or coins? Good news! You don't owe taxes on your holdings.
  • If you've exchanged your coins for an equal value of another coin, you're still in the clear, at least for the 2017 tax season. This is called a like-kind exchange and until the new tax law takes effect next year, these are not taxed, either.
  • If, however, you sold your holdings for cold, hard cash, or used it to purchase anything other than another crypto, you need to report that income.
  • In order to report the income, there are a few things you need to keep track of. First, the price of the coins at the time of purchase (also called your basis); second, the price of the coin at the time of sale. From there, you can calculate your earnings with a simple formula: Sale Proceeds – Basis = taxable profit (or loss)

A little sampler math: Let’s say you purchased 1.0 BTC on July 1, 2017 you probably paid around $2,496. If you sold that coin on December 16, 2017, at the peak of bitcoin-mania, you probably received around $19,202. Plugging those numbers into the formula tells us that your income from that bitcoin sale is $16,706. That is your capital gains — the income you pay taxes on — for that coin.

The equation becomes murkier if your transactions aren't so one-for-one. Say you'd been slowly buying up bitcoin throughout most of 2017, and sold only half of your stake in December. How do you determine your basis in that case? Which coin did you sell, exactly? Can you say you only sold your most valuable coins and therefore have a lower income?

The short answer is that you or your tax professional usually makes that calculation via a method called "first in first out," or FIFO. When you sell your coins, you assume you are selling your first, or oldest, coins when calculating the basis. You can also use LIFO, or "last in first out," but you have to stick with whatever method you choose, year after year. The IRS expects you to apply these rules in a reasonable and consistent manner. Your individual circumstances determine which method makes the most sense for you. Since this can have lasting effects on your finances, it's probably a good thing to decide with input from your tax professional.

cryptocurrency and tax files
Image by Emily Cho

Mo’ Coin, Mo’ Problems

Finally, there's the question of what to do with those additional coins you gained if you’d held a currency during a hard fork, like when Bitcoin bifurcated into bitcoin and bitcoin gold.

A cryptocurrency experiences a "fork" when there is a significant change to the protocol of the underlying ledger. Bitcoin gold came to be, for example, because its administrators introduced a new algorithm that altered how the currency can be mined. This was a “hard fork” — the split leaves the original ledger intact and creates a new, separate ledger using the new protocols (a soft fork is different because, though the split initially creates two ledgers, the two re-unify as a single ledger and currency).

If you had some of that original currency before a hard fork, then congrats! You also own the same number of coins in the new currency. That’s essentially free money — and another complicated situation for our intrepid tax professionals.

While the IRS has not made an official statement on the matter, Coggins says it's probably safe to treat these new coins as dividends — profits received by stockholders — that are taxed as normal income. For instance, if you own a traditional stock you may receive dividends as a sort of reward from the company for your investment. The rules differ, but generally stockholders receive dividends as a portion of the company's profits, paid each quarter, proportional to the number of stocks they own.

"I own [stock in] Starbucks, and every quarter they send to me 85 cents or something because it’s a dividend," Coggins said. While dissimilar in many ways, she says, dividends and hard forks both create a sort of free money dished out to investors. That is enough evidence in her mind to treat them the same when it comes to your taxes.

Yes, all of these "if, then" statements can make paying taxes on your cryptocurrency seem complicated, even more complicated than simply preparing your taxes in general. If you are feeling overwhelmed or confused, just be cool.

"It’s kind of like the prudent man rule," Coggins said referring to a well-known legal maxim. "What would a prudent man do? If you’ve legitimately made money, you should report it."

Of course, the best way to stay in the IRS' good graces is to keep extensive records and consult with a tax professional. Or, even more simply:

Just pay your taxes. Honestly and on time. That usually keeps them away.

Disclosure: Several members of the Futurism team, including the editors of this piece, are personal investors in a number of cryptocurrency markets. Their personal investment perspectives have no impact on editorial content.

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