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It’s Official: The FTC Is Investigating Facebook

Posted: 26 Mar 2018 09:29 AM PDT

This week is already shaping up to be another rough one for Facebook. This morning, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), a bipartisan federal agency designed to protect consumers and promote competition, is investigating the embattled company.

Rumblings of such an investigation began March 20, when The Washington Post reported that the FTC was beginning an investigation into the social media platform in the wake of news of its involvement with Cambridge Analytica, a data mining company.

However, WaPo cited a source not authorized to speak on the record, and an FTC spokesperson simply said the agency was "aware of the issues that have been raised but cannot comment on whether we are investigating."

Today, Tom Pahl, Acting Director of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection, made it official. He released the following statement:

The FTC is firmly and fully committed to using all of its tools to protect the privacy of consumers. Foremost among these tools is enforcement action against companies that fail to honor their privacy promises, including to comply with Privacy Shield, or that engage in unfair acts that cause substantial injury to consumers in violation of the FTC Act.

Companies who have settled previous FTC actions must also comply with FTC order provisions imposing privacy and data security requirements. Accordingly, the FTC takes very seriously recent press reports raising substantial concerns about the privacy practices of Facebook. Today, the FTC is confirming that it has an open non-public investigation into these practices.

The FTC Facebook investigation most likely centers on a 2011 consent decree Facebook signed with the agency, numerous news outlets have speculated. That decree required Facebook to get permission from users before it could share their personal data beyond the limits set by their privacy settings. Facebook may have violated that when it allowed Cambridge Analytica to scrape personal information from upwards of 50 million Facebook users without this explicit permission. Cambridge Analytica is now facing its own legal woes for how it used that information to influence U.S. elections.

As for Facebook, the company has so far tried to downplay its involvement with Cambridge Analytica, with CEO Mark Zuckerberg claiming the company “already took the most important steps a few years ago in 2014 to prevent bad actors from accessing people's information in this way.”

However, that’s clearly not enough to satisfy the FTC. A single violation of Facebook’s 2011 agreement with the agency can carry a fine of up to $40,000. That means Facebook could be facing a $2 trillion penalty from the FTC for these violations — perhaps enough to bankrupt the company. Unsurprisingly, mere minutes after Pahl’s statement hit the internet, the company’s stock plummeted by 5 percent.

It’s difficult to say how long the FTC Facebook investigation could take. But by the time it’s over, we should have a clearer picture of Facebook’s responsibility for the incident with Cambridge Analytica, and whether it was the only one like it.

The post It’s Official: The FTC Is Investigating Facebook appeared first on Futurism.

Guess What, Rich People: Meteor Showers on Demand Are a Terrible Idea

Posted: 26 Mar 2018 08:49 AM PDT

To glimpse a meteor shower, sometimes you’ve got to wake up in the middle of the night, bundle up against frigid cold, and wait many minutes or hours. All to see a streak of light, a piece of space that crosses briefly into our world.

Soon, though, all you may need is enough cash.

A Japanese “space entertainment firm” called Astro Live Experiences (ALE) says it will launch its first satellite in 2019 to create artificial meteor showers on demand, for large events or at the whim of the wealthiest among us. Though ALE hasn’t named a specific price per event, BuzzFeed News suggests each ALE meteor shower will likely cost several million dollars.

According to CNN, ALE “meteors” will be small metallic pellets made of a proprietary composition that glows orange, blue, or green as they burn up in the atmosphere. Yet unlike ordinary meteors, which are usually around the size of a sand grain, ALE’s fake shooting stars will be substantially bigger — around two centimeters in diameter (smaller than a ping-pong ball, but slightly larger than a marble) — and released in a cloud.

Experts have raised concerns that this could threaten low-orbiting spacecraft.

"I salute them for cleverness and for their technical expertise, but from an orbital debris standpoint, it's not a great idea," University of Michigan astronomer Patrick Seitzer told BuzzFeed.

Moving at high speeds brought on by Earth’s gravity, a 2 centimeter-wide object is more than enough to shoot right through a metal spacecraft — and leave devastation in its wake.

ALE seems to be taking steps to ensure this would be an unlikely event. ALE’s satellite would likely orbit just below the International Space Station to avoid collisions; any pellet that ALE’s satellite releases will go from an altitude of 220 miles (354 km) to about 37 miles (59.5 km) above the surface before burning up. Rodenbaugh told BuzzFeed that only 40 other satellites orbit below 220 miles, and that the company would call off any event that would put their artificial meteors close to a tracked satellite.

Yet fake meteor showers could still impact spy satellites, which are not tracked and can dip as low as 158 miles; and low-earth orbit is slated to become a lot busier in the coming years, Seitzer mentioned to Buzzfeed,.

There are plans to ensure that, yes, low-earth orbit (that is, anything under 2,000 km (1,200 miles) from the Earth’s surface) will be a lot more crowded. SpaceX and other companies plan to send up a number of satellites to establish satellite-based internet services; SpaceX alone plans to put over 4,000 of them between 700 and 900 miles (1,100 and 1,400 kilometers). There are also the high-speed rockets and space planes that companies plan to fill with tourists, and low-altitude spacecraft that the military wants to use to deliver yet more satellites. Add thousands of falling metal pellets to the 500,000 pieces of man-made debris we already know circle our planet, and the risk for any of these spacecraft becomes significantly higher.

Call us purists, but artificially creating shooting stars overlooks what makes meteor showers so incredible in the first place: that you never know exactly when you’re going to see them. Paying for a manufactured one doesn’t exactly have the same thrill. (May we humbly suggest you instead use your considerable wealth to address the problem of light pollution so that more people could see natural shooting stars.) Creating a space hazard simply to provide a cheap imitation of a natural wonder seems to be missing the point.

The post Guess What, Rich People: Meteor Showers on Demand Are a Terrible Idea appeared first on Futurism.

Amazon Is Really Serious About Making Healthcare a Part of Its Future

Posted: 26 Mar 2018 08:26 AM PDT

Unlike some other Twitter-loving tech CEOs we know, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos likes to keep his company’s plans fairly quiet. Some even call Amazon “secretive.”

Bezos disagrees with that label, though. In 2014, he told shareholders he thinks “quiet” is more accurate: “Our primary approach is, we talk when we have something to say.”

As recent whisperings about Amazon’s involvement in the healthcare industry have risen to a crescendo, Amazon may be just about there.

Bezos first alluded to Amazon’s healthcare plans at the Vanity Fair New Establishment Summit in October 2016. “I think healthcare is going to be one of those industries that is elevated and made better by machine learning and artificial intelligence. And I actually think Echo and Alexa do have a role to play in that,” he told attendees.

Clearly, he wasn’t just riffing. Amazon has spent the last year slowing inching its way deeper into the healthcare industry.

In July 2017, Amazon set up 1492, a secret lab dedicated to healthcare innovation. Since then, they’ve hired a number of healthcare experts to join the project, including Seattle doctor Martin Levine and Taha Kass-Hout, former chief health informatics officer for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

In February, the company even teamed up with JPMorgan Chase and Berkshire Hathaway to form a company dedicated to reducing healthcare costs for employees.

It’s not yet clear how these pieces will come together, or how Amazon will stake its claim in the healthcare industry as a whole. But there are more signs that when the company’s efforts come to the fore, they could be in a position to dominate the industry.

The latest sign that Amazon is really serious about getting into healthcare is the sheer number of healthcare experts on the guest list for Bezos’ third annual MARS conference, an invite-only event that draws its name from the topics under discussion: machine learning, home automation, robotics, and space exploration.

At the meeting, Sonde Health presented its technology: AI that can diagnose mental and physical conditions based on recordings of a patient’s voice. Rich Mahoney, head of clothing startup Seismic, demonstrated his company’s “powered” garments, which could help the elderly and disabled people cope with mobility issue. And neuroscientist David Eagleman showed off his company’s vest that uses “sensory substitution” to help the deaf communicate.

It’s still anyone’s guess how these technologies could tie in with Amazon’s healthcare plans. But it’s worth noting this was the first year Bezos invited reporters to join in on his “summer camp for geeks.” For someone who typically likes to keep Amazon’s future plans under wraps and carefully controlled, that fact alone could be a sign the company’s healthcare ambitions won’t be a secret much longer.

The post Amazon Is Really Serious About Making Healthcare a Part of Its Future appeared first on Futurism.

Physicist Michio Kaku Has Some Powerful Predictions for the Future

Posted: 26 Mar 2018 08:20 AM PDT

No one knows more about the world of tomorrow than Michio Kaku.

Equal parts theoretical physicist, futurist, and popular science communicator, Kaku studies cutting-edge science and technology in order to understand the future.

A graduate of Harvard University and Berkeley, Kaku has spent 25 years as a professor of theoretical physics at the City College of New York.

His main challenge has been to unite the laws of our universe in a grand “theory of everything” — the same thing to which Albert Einstein dedicated much of his career. Yes, this seems just a little daunting. But Kaku’s foundational contributions to string field theory brought physicists the closest they’ve ever come to actually achieving it.

In short: he’s got real science behind him. Which gives him a unique perspective and background to predict what the future will be like.

Here’s Everything You Want to Know About Astrophysicist and Futurist Michio Kaku
Click to View Full Infographic

Kaku’s Take on Tomorrow

When most people look to the future, they envision a world in which flying cars soar high above us as we edit diseases out of our genes.

But to Kaku, one innovation looms largest, blotting out other sights: drones.

In an interview with Futurism at the World Government Summit last month, the topic dominated the conversation.

Kaku has been warning of the dangers of militarized drone systems for years. The threat of military drones, he says, is absolute. “The only immediate danger is automatic killing machines,” he said.

Those who portend a future filled with Terminator-style robots armed with artificial superintelligence ignore real and imminent dangers. “That's not going to happen for another hundred years, so I'm not worried,” he said, and

Here’s what should really give us pause, according to Kaku:

We have drones that a human supervises and says, 'kill that target.' In the future, the drone will recognize the human form and have permission to kill the target. It may go crazy one day—a mistake, a short circuit could take place—and it just keeps shooting that human form independent of any instructions. Automatic killing machines are the one thing we have to worry about today, not tomorrow. But other than that, we really don’t have to worry about the robots taking over.

Kaku’s Predictions Beyond

Here are some of Kaku’s other predictions on a variety of topics:

  • Extraterrestrial Life: “Within this century, we will make contact with an alien civilization by listening in on their radio communications.”
  • The Evolution of AI: “Simple tasks done by humans are way beyond what a robot can do. But, as the decades go by, they will become as smart as a mouse, then rat, then a cat, dog, and monkey. By that point, they might become dangerous and even replace humans, near the end of the century.”
  • Colonizing Alien Worlds: “We need an insurance policy, a backup plan. The dinosaurs didn’t have a space program, and that’s why they’re not here today. No one’s saying we should leave the Earth and go to Mars, but a settlement on Mars is a definite possibility.”
  • Bitcoin: “You cannot stop virtual currency. As far as, ‘what are things worth?’ Things are worth whatever your willing to pay for it….so it’s gambling. It’s speculation. As far as my personal attitude towards it, it’s not productive. Bitcoin is not a productive industry.”
  • Driverless Cars: “As transportation is digitized in the next decade, driverless cars, guided by GPS and radar, will share our highways. ‘Traffic accidents’ and ‘traffic jams’ will become archaic terms. Thousands of lives will be saved every year.”

Want to read more about Kaku and his work?

Here are some articles, blog posts, and videos to keep you informed.

The post Physicist Michio Kaku Has Some Powerful Predictions for the Future appeared first on Futurism.

How Your Gut Controls Your Mind and What to Do About It

Posted: 26 Mar 2018 05:00 AM PDT

Have you ever had that gut feeling? A feeling that makes you suddenly feel anxious or feel like something isn't right? It's not just a figure of speech, because there is actually science behind it. This is caused by the microbes in your gut communicating with your brain via something called the vagus nerve, and vice versa. So let's look at what has to happen in the gut to cause it to start sending signals to the brain that result in problems like depression or anxiety.
Scientific evidence shows a strong connection between chronic diseases and inflammation. Inflammation is most commonly rooted in the gut, where around 70 percent of our immune system resides. Our food choices result in oxidative stress, setting the stage for inflammatory ailments such as depression, anxiety, brain fog, obesity and more. The health of your gut directly impacts the health of your brain.
The gut communicated with our immune system and also communicates with the brain using, among other things, neurotransmitters. One function of neurotransmitters is that they that they send key messages to the brain, resulting in various effects on the body.
Serotonin and dopamine are some well-known neurotransmitters that are typically associated with a good mood. In fact, while many believe that serotonin is primarily produced in the brain, it's been found that up to 90 percent of serotonin is actually created in the gut.
Dr. Helen Messer, the Chief Medical Officer at Viome, which analyzes the gut microbiome, told Futurism that "the bacteria in the gut make or consume the majority of neurotransmitters in our bodies."
Essentially, if your gut is producing an adequate amount of mood-improving chemicals like serotonin, then it will send signals to the brain that will result in various benefits such as better sleep and satiety. It's obviously more complicated than that, but that's the general rundown. So how do you influence your gut to help it produce the good neurotransmitters and other compounds that make the mind feel better? A lot of it has to do with eating the right diet that your gut needs.

gut mind brain

The foods that we eat affect the composition of our microbes and in turn change the products that our gut produces, Dr. Messier said. A fatty diet, especially, can turn on the bad bacteria that like those types of food. These fast food loving organisms produce inflammatory compounds setting the stage for chronic diseases.
The truth is that your gut is incredibly unique. It's more unique than your fingerprint. It's important to understand that there is no food that can be considered universally non-inflammatory. The same food that can heal one person and cause inflammation in another person depending the composition of the gut microbiome, Viome CEO Naveen Jain told Futurism. Your gut can metabolize the same food to produce nutrients that your body needs or can produce harmful toxins that cause inflammation. That spinach you've been told to eat your whole life may not actually be healthy for you right now.
A healthy diet personalized for you allows your gut not produce inflammatory compounds and instead produce healthy compounds like butyrate and neurotransmitters that positively affect the brain and mind. It's not just neurotransmitters, though. The bacteria in your gut also produce vitamins and nutrients your brain needs to function properly.
"Neurotransmitter production in the brain is dependent on specific vitamins," Dr. Messier said. "Folic acid is an example. Our brain absolutely depends on folic acid, and our bacteria make it for us. If they don't have the right building blocks that come from the food, they won't be able to make the things we depend on."
If your brain does not get the nutrients it needs, then nerve signals slow down, and different parts of the brain start having trouble communicating effectively, Dr. Messier explained. The good news is that the microbiome changes. If someone adequately improves their diet, based on personalized recommendations, Dr. Messier says their gut can be rebalanced in a matter of weeks.
To find out what your unique microbiome needs, it's best to get your gut tested. Viome, where Dr. Messier works, has developed an RNA sequencing method that is affordable and accurately identifies which organisms are active in your gut. Not only what organisms are there, but also what these organisms are doing and what they are producing. We've reported on it in the past. Viome offers personalized food recommendations based on the needs of your gut. Not only will your gut thank you, your brain will thank you too.

Futurism fans: To create this content, a non-editorial team worked with Viome, who sponsored this post. They help us keep the lights on, and Futurism may receive a commission from sales. This post does not reflect the views or the endorsement of the Futurism.com editorial staff.

The post How Your Gut Controls Your Mind and What to Do About It appeared first on Futurism.