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Politicians Are Now Facing Legal Action For Sharing Extremists’ Posts on Social Media

Posted: 03 Mar 2018 08:26 AM PST

Sharer Beware

It turns out, it really does matter what you post on social media. Since she was stripped of parliamentary immunity in November by the National Assembly, Marine Le Pen, leader of France’s far-right, is facing charges for sharing extremists posts on Twitter.

As reported by AFP news agencyThe party leader was charged with distributing "violent messages that incite terrorism or pornography or seriously harm human dignity" and can be seen by a minor. The tweets were posted in 2015, but without immunity, she is able to be prosecuted.

It really does matter what you post on social media. Image Credit: mohamed_hassan / pixabay
It really does matter what you post on social media. Image Credit: mohamed_hassan / pixabay

This is not the first case of consequences for sharing social media content. Yonatan Tesfaye, a former spokesperson for Ethiopia’s opposition party, was sentenced to more than six years of jail time last May for encouraging terrorist acts on Facebook.

In the U.K., there is a proposed tax penalty for leaving up violent images or extremist content, forcing companies to take action or pay the price. Additionally, in Russian, sharing certain depictions of Putin is now considered “extremism.” New regulations have already led to arrests.

A New Precedent

In this case, Le Pen shared images that were captioned “Daesh is THIS” (Daesh is the Arabic acronym used for ISIS). She shared an image of the beheaded body of American journalist James Foley, which was later taken down after outrage from Foley’s family. She also shared an image of a man being run over by a tank and another of a man being burned alive in a cage.

Le Pen admitted no guilt to AFP, saying "I am being charged for having condemned the horrors of Daesh. In other countries, this would have earned me a medal."

Legal taken in response to behavior on social media is a relatively new phenomenon. It is unclear whether those who like or retweet these shared images will also face penalties — though it seems unlikely.

Additionally, these charges raise the question of whether U.S. politicians could be convicted of similar crimes. President Trump drew harsh criticism from the U.K. after sharing extremists posts containing violent imagery, but it seems highly improbable that any legal action will be taken.

Le Pen potentially faces up to three years in jail as well as a fine of €75,000 (about $92,000). This could set a new precedent in the West for responding to such social media behavior and, in the future, could theoretically spark further convictions.

The post Politicians Are Now Facing Legal Action For Sharing Extremists’ Posts on Social Media appeared first on Futurism.

Driving for Uber or Lyft Is Awful, New Study Shows

Posted: 03 Mar 2018 07:22 AM PST

If you are driving for Uber or Lyft, you aren’t going to make any money. In fact, you may actually be paying for the privilege of working at a ridesharing company. According to a study published by MIT, the median profit for drivers is an abysmal $3.37 an hour, and that’s before taxes. Ultimately, 74 percent of drivers earn less than minimum wage and, once vehicle expenses are taken into account, 30 percent actually lose money every mile they drive.

We’re just getting started.

The researcher also found that, in the U.S., an overwhelming majority of profits made while driving for Uber and Lyft aren’t taxed. For each mile driven, drivers incur about $0.30 in costs; however, they are able to claim a Standard Mileage Deduction of $0.54 per a mile on their taxes — a difference that amounts to billions of dollars in untaxed income.

So the drivers aren’t the only ones paying the price. We all are.

The Future of Transport: 24 Astounding Facts About Uber
Click to View Full Infographic

In an interview with The Guardian, an Uber spokesperson stated that the paper is little more than sensationalism, calling the methodology and findings “deeply flawed.” Yet, MIT isn’t exactly known for being a sensationalist publication.

In any case, the research paints a dark picture of the revolutionary ridesharing industry; however, it’s far from the first time the ride-hailing apps have faced censure. In September of last year, London decided not to renew Uber’s license to operate in the city, citing lacking corporate responsibility as one of the primary determinants.

Yet, the study is significant in that it highlights serious and untenable flaws in the gig economy model — a model that is fast creating a financial culture in which most people can’t survive. Mark Tluszcz, co-founder and CEO of Mangrove Capital Partners, succinctly summed the problem in an interview with TechCrunch: “We're creating the next lost generation of people who simply don't have enough money to live, and those companies are fundamentally enabling it under the premise that they're offering a cheaper service to consumers.”

The problem stems from the fact that current policies weren’t written under a gig economy model, so platforms like Uber and Lyft are able to exploit loopholes in policy and avoid regulations that traditional companies must abide by. Studies like this highlight the reality that, for many, a secure financial future may depend on immediate updates to employment law.

The post Driving for Uber or Lyft Is Awful, New Study Shows appeared first on Futurism.

Toyota Is Launching a $2.8 Billion Self-Driving Car Company

Posted: 03 Mar 2018 06:16 AM PST

Toyota has invested ¥300 billion ($2.8 billion) in a new Tokyo-based company that will build software for self-driving cars, according to a report in the Wall Street Journal on Friday. The Toyota Research Institute-Advanced Development (or TRI-AD) will set out with 300 employees but the Japanese automaker hopes that number will grow to about 1,000 as the company takes off.

Toyota has an ambitious deadline of 2020 for testing its autonomous, electric vehicles, which is part of the company’s larger goal of commercially expanding the availability and capabilities of self-driving cars.

When Toyota first announced its 2020 goal, the company teased that the autonomous vehicles in development might come with AI functionalities that could facilitate conversations between vehicles and passengers.

Toyota’s main goal with TRI-AD is ensuring the development of reliable software for the cars. "With automated-driving-software development happening around the world, there is a broad spectrum of software being written with a wide variance in quality," James Kuffner, the new company’s leader told the Wall Street Journal.

Why did Toyota create an entirely new company to handle this work? As Jean-Yves Jault, a Toyota spokesperson explained to the Wall Street Journal, it was partially due to recruiting needs. "The idea is to create a company where we are not bound by restrictions,” Jault said, adding that they’ll need to hire “a globalized team, and one of the best ways to do that is to create a company separate from Toyota Motor Corp., to create a company with different rules—like a startup."

Driverless cars might seem far off from being commonplace on our roads, but autonomous vehicles are already on the streets in several cities. Self-driving vehicles have the potential to make our roads safer, and with companies like Toyota dedicated to investing in and improving the technology, by 2020 they could become far more commonplace.

The post Toyota Is Launching a $2.8 Billion Self-Driving Car Company appeared first on Futurism.

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

Posted: 03 Mar 2018 04:00 AM PST

Your Next Real Estate Agent Might Be a Robot

Posted: 02 Mar 2018 02:20 PM PST

The next time you buy a house, it might not be from a real estate agent. At least, not an agent of flesh and blood. Real estate agencies and some startups have started employing robots to do some of the perfunctory jobs that their realtors typically do, incorporating artificial intelligence (AI) into their workplace.

The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) highlighted three of these companies: A brokerage firm in Woodland Hills, California named REX, another California property management company, Zenplace, and a Brooklyn-based startup called VirtualAPT. Both REX and Zenplace employ robots to interface with clients. The former places a robot named REX in seller’s homes to answer questions and collect data, while Zenplace uses robots to help their human agents communicate remotely with clients.

VirtualAPT built a bot that can make three-dimensional videos of real estate property. Virtual property tours are a convenience for prospective buyers with busy schedules, or who can’t physically visit a location.

Robots may be able to simplify the process of buying property. They might also cut down on potential real estate agent commission costs that buyers typically have to pay. REX, for example, charges only a 2 percent commission — that’s below the 5 to 6 percent commission that agents usually bill sellers.

Robots Taking Over Jobs. Again.

REX founder and CEO Jack Ryan told the WSJ that he thinks AI and robots are definitely disrupting the real estate industry. But Robert Reffkin, CEO of a New York-based real estate brokerage called Compass, disagrees.

Reffkin told the WSJ, "I believe that agents are critical to transactions and always will be." He doesn’t think that this new trend will result in the layoffs or loss of jobs that automation critics typically cite when robots start encroaching on an industry. But the question remains: Could robots better realtors than their human counterparts?

In any case, robots are clearly beginning to impact the real estate business. For now, this means robots assist human real estate agents or brokers. But in the (very near) future, it quite possible that robots could take over the business of selling property entirely.

The post Your Next Real Estate Agent Might Be a Robot appeared first on Futurism.

New App Turns Consent Into A Contract. Why Do We Need It?

Posted: 02 Mar 2018 02:00 PM PST

Consent should be simple: either it exists clearly on both sides or it doesn’t. The #MeToo movement, started by Tarana Burke, has illustrated the stark reality of sexual harassment and assault — one that’s complicated. And many would argue needlessly so. While a great number of people have been aware of the reality (and have been for a long time) those coming forward now with their stories have sparked an honest, global conversation about consent.

From within this conversation, some are looking to tech in search of solutions. On Monday, a Dutch company introduced the beta version of an app called  LegalFling, which allows users to give consent in a “live contract,” and the interaction is sent through the Waves network. The contract can be continuously updated and changed, for example, if a person consents initially but then changes their mind later on. Since the app operates on the blockchain, the records are a permanent part of the public ledger.

A technology-driven solution to the problem of consent might seem natural in the online era in which we live, but it could cause more issues than it solves. Issues that, quite frankly, shouldn’t exist at all.

LegalFling's many features. Image Credit: LegalFling
LegalFling’s many features. Image Credit: LegalFling

As Andrew D. Cherkasky, a former special victims prosecutor who now works as a criminal defense attorney for sexual assault cases, told the New York Times, information from the app could hold up in court. However, app data on whether or not both parties consented — and whether or not the changed consent status was reflected in the app— might not give a court the full story. Missing or omitted information notoriously complicates even cases that aren’t tech-based.

For example, if at the beginning of an encounter both people consent in the app, but one party decides halfway through that they want to stop, it seems like it could be all too easy for the other party to prevent them from getting back into the app to log the change in consent. Or, if a person simply decided to leave, they might forget to change their consent status in the app.

Beyond its potential to complicate court cases, for many, the real issue is that such an app shouldn’t be necessary at all. But as we’ve seen with #TimesUp and #MeToo, our society is completely ingrained with subtle, but persisting, standards and behaviors rooted in a long and troubled history. One where the very definition of consent has been not only challenged but manipulated — and ultimately violated.

While it can be taken as a sign of positive change that there’s interest in preventing assault and protecting consent, the focus needs to be on the problem itself — why it exists and how we can address it. For that, an app is not the solution.

The post New App Turns Consent Into A Contract. Why Do We Need It? appeared first on Futurism.

What Are YOU Looking At? Mind-Reading AI Knows

Posted: 02 Mar 2018 01:51 PM PST

Japanese scientists know what you’re looking at — but don’t worry, there’s no need to close your other browser tabs yet. Using an artificial intelligence (AI) system alongside fMRI scans, researchers were able to create an apparently mind-reading AI — “or perhaps at this point just mind skimming," said Umut Güçlü, a researcher at Radboud University in the Netherlands who was not involved in the research, to New Scientist

The system is actually similar to AI technologies that have been used successfully to caption images. To do this for someone’s brain, the AI first needs an image of their brain taken with a fMRI scanner while the person is looking at an image. These scans show activity in the brain through blood flow.

Three women sitting on a bench and looking at a wall covered in black and white images of various people. A mind-reading AI might be able to describe what each woman was seeing.
How accurately could a mind-reading AI tell what you’re looking at? Image Credit: geralt / pixabay

The mind-reading AI isn’t always completely correct; in one of the tests, it thought a participant was looking at scissors, when they were looking at a clock. Yet even when wrong, it sometimes came tantalizingly close. For example, when one person being scanned was looking at an image of a man is kayaking in a river, the AI captioned it: A man is surfing in the ocean on his surf board.

In other cases, the AI was spot on: when the image was of a group of people standing next to each other, or of a black and white dog, the system was absolutely right.

The system presently has its limits. Images from fMRI don’t record all activity in the brain, and so there are boundaries to how detailed these captions can be. This method also requires a participant to lie in a large machine, making it poorly suited for use anywhere but in a medical facility.

While at-home applications might be far off, this type of technology could be used to support the development of brain-computer interfaces (BCIs). Emerging BCI tech uses small electrodes, as opposed to fMRI machines, to monitor brain activity. This research could potentially support these efforts and one day allow humans, with the help of their mind-reading AI, to control computers with only their minds. We’re nowhere near these abilities, but we can almost picture it now — and our AI would probably see it, too.

The post What Are YOU Looking At? Mind-Reading AI Knows appeared first on Futurism.

A Nearby Planet Thought to Host Life Was Just Blasted With Radiation

Posted: 02 Mar 2018 01:35 PM PST

No Ordinary Day

In 2016, when scientists confirmed the discovery of Proxima b, a potentially habitable, Earth-sized planet orbiting the star Proxima Centauri, it was cause for astrobiological celebration. Proxima Centauri is the nearest star to our solar system — just 4.24 light-years away — so, in the search for extraterrestrial life, we’d found a promising candidate in our cosmic backyard.

Now, new information casts doubt on the exoplanet’s life-hosting potential, not to mention our plans to investigate it.

An artist's impression of a flare from Proxima Centauri, modeled after the loops of glowing hot gas seen in the largest solar flares, with the exoplanet Proxima b in the foreground. Image Credit: Roberto Molar Candanosa / Carnegie Institution for Science, NASA/SDO, NASA/JPL
An artist’s impression of a flare from Proxima Centauri, modeled after the loops of glowing hot gas seen in the largest solar flares, with the exoplanet Proxima b in the foreground. Image Credit: Roberto Molar Candanosa / Carnegie Institution for Science, NASA/SDO, NASA/JPL

Based on observations from the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA), scientists recently found that Proxima Centauri emitted an exceptionally powerful solar flare in March 2017. If life ever did exist on Proxima b, this violent flare, which was 10 times brighter than our Sun’s largest flares, may have wiped it out.

“March 24, 2017, was no ordinary day for Proxima Cen,” said Meredith MacGregor, an astronomer from the Carnegie Institution for Science, in a National Radio Astronomy Observatory press release.

Tough Conditions

MacGregor’s team found that the flare made Proxima Centauri 1,000 times brighter over the course of just 10 seconds. Though the entire event (including a smaller preceding flare) lasted less than two minutes, it bathed little Proxima b with an estimated 4,000 times more radiation than Earth receives from the Sun’s usual flares.

That’s not great news for anything that might have been alive on the exoplanet’s surface.

“It’s likely that Proxima b was blasted by high energy radiation during this flare,” said MacGregor in the press release. “Over the billions of years since Proxima b formed, flares like this one could have evaporated any atmosphere or ocean and sterilized the surface, suggesting that habitability may involve more than just being the right distance from the host star to have liquid water.”

We already have powerful telescopes in development that promise to give us a closer look at Proxima b, and missions designed to help us determine if it hosts life. Even if we find out the exoplanet it uninhabitable, that knowledge could inform our search for life on planets beyond the Centauri system.

Small dwarf stars like Proxima Centauri are the most common type in our galaxy, and we’ve already found planets in the habitable zones around several. But given that dwarf stars are prone to violent fits, like Proxima Centauri’s most recent episode, any life on the surfaces of these planets would need to be esheltered from — or hardened against — some intense solar radiation.

The post A Nearby Planet Thought to Host Life Was Just Blasted With Radiation appeared first on Futurism.

Autonomous Transport Pods Make For a Sci-Fi Commute in Dubai

Posted: 02 Mar 2018 01:23 PM PST

Autonomous Transport Pods

Visiting Dubai can seem like stepping into the future. It’s home to man-made islands, the world’s first 3D printed office, and firefighters with jetpacks. Now the city wants residents to commute in sci-fi style, too – recently, the city unveiled and tested two autonomous transport pods, each designed to ferry up to six people.

At the end of February, Dubai’s Roads and Transport Authority (RTA) featured these two pods attached to each other other and running around one of the city’s main streets. Built in Italy by the U.S.-based company Next Future Transportation, the cube-shaped autonomous pods run on electricity, with a top speed of 80 k/h (roughly 50 mph).

These pods are part of the city’s 2030 Dubai Future Accelerators program, with a goal of making 25 percent of daily transportation fully automated. In order to do this, the RTA will spend $410,000 (1.5 million dirhams) for further research and development of the pods.

"The goal is to develop these two research vehicles," Khaled al-Awadhi, Automated Collection Systems director at the RTA, told Reuters. "These tests are aimed at developing the performance of these vehicles.”

Transporting the Future

The plan, according to the RTA, will be to initially deploy the pods on pre-programmed routes. Eventually, they would become accessible using a mobile app for home pickups, like a ride-hailing service.

Next Future’s autonomous transport pods are just one of the latest transport technologies Dubai has been interested in. City officials have been working on a number of Hyperloop projects, including building a network that connects major cities.

Meanwhile, Dubai’s other autonomous transportation efforts include testing a vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) ride-hailing service, as well as a driverless taxi service on land powered by Tesla Model S and X vehicles. Dubai also funded a startup working to perfect a technology that would allow driverless cars to “communicate” with each other, and with smart road infrastructure.

Dubai RTA authorities have not given an exact date as to when Next’s autonomous cube pods will hit the roads. For now, officials have said they aim to iron out their plans for the pods by the end of 2018 or by early 2019.

Disclaimer: The Dubai Future Foundation works in collaboration with Futurism and is one of our sponsors.

The post Autonomous Transport Pods Make For a Sci-Fi Commute in Dubai appeared first on Futurism.

4 Astounding Things About Russia’s (Supposed) New Weapons

Posted: 02 Mar 2018 12:52 PM PST

During Vladimir Putin’s state of the nation address this week, the Russian president revealed a nuclear-powered, nuclear-armed missile that can apparently deliver a warhead to anywhere on Earth.

“I want to tell all those who have fueled the arms race over the last 15 years, sought to win unilateral advantages over Russia, introduced unlawful sanctions aimed to contain our country’s development… you have failed to contain Russia,” said Putin, according to a report by NBC News.

Experts are, needless to say, taken aback by this development.

“I’m still kind of in shock,” said Edward Geist, a researcher specializing in Russia at the Rand Corp, speaking to NPR. “My guess is they’re not bluffing, that they’ve flight-tested this thing. But that’s incredible.”

But what makes this weapon just so surprising? Here are four factors that, if they’re true, would leave experts astounded.

It Was Tested in Secret

Putin stated that Russia already tested its new weapon, performing a missile launch as well as ground tests. An accompanying video seemed to show a cruise missile being propelled into the sky, though Newsweek noted that the missile depicted in the video might be a decade old.

U.S. intelligence agencies have not made it known whether they knew about those tests before Putin’s speech, or if the tests themselves are real.

It Boasts an Unlimited Range

The missile supposedly uses a nuclear propulsion system similar to what aircraft carriers and submarines use to travel long distances without refueling. This would make it possible for the missile to strike anywhere on Earth. Just coincidentally, the sample target in Putin’s video demonstration was President Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort.

It Has a Dangerous Nuclear Propulsion System

In his interview with NPR, Geist said that the missile is likely powered by what’s known as a “fast reactor.” It’s riskier than most other types of nuclear reactors. If the missile were to crash, or the reactor failed, it would cause a major nuclear incident.

It Can Dodge Missile Defenses

An animation accompanying Putin’s remarks also showed how such a weapon could dodge terrain and missile defenses while flying towards its intended target.

U.S. defense strategies typically assume that nuclear missiles will fly high above the Earth, making it possible to shoot them down before they reach their target. Putin promises that Russia’s new missiles will stay close to the ground and travel too quickly for ground defenses to react. If he’s right, the U.S. military might have to tweak its  current defense strategy, and fast.

President Trump’s recent budget suggested increasing missile defense spending by 25 percent, or an additional $1.91 billion, according to report from Bloomberg. Russia is likely none too thrilled with that development, but Putin seems confident his country’s new weapon could stymie U.S. defenses, regardless of what the military adds with its expanded budget.

Is Russia bluffing? Some experts suspect they aren’t. “They’re willing to go full Strangelove on us,” Geist told NPR. But we have yet to see proof other than what Putin said during his address. Regardless, the Russian president’s message was loud and clear: Russia is a technologically advanced nation, and one to be reckoned with.

The post 4 Astounding Things About Russia’s (Supposed) New Weapons appeared first on Futurism.

To Cure a Deadly Disease, 17 People Will Be Knowingly Infected With Worms

Posted: 02 Mar 2018 12:06 PM PST

Bring on the Worms

Seventeen volunteers from the Netherlands have agreed to host parasitic worms in their bodies for 12 weeks in a study that could lead to a vaccine for schistosomiasis, one of the most devastating parasitic diseases in the world.

The Story of How Vaccines Changed the World
Click to View Full Infographic

Also known as snail fever, schistosomiasis is a disease caused by schistosomes, a type of parasitic flatworm. After these worms enter the human body through the skin, they can cause a host of problems, including kidney failure, bladder cancer, and infertility.

They can also impact the physical growth and learning ability of infected children, and the condition is particularly common in sub-Saharan Africa and South America.

A vaccine could go a long way toward preventing infection, but setting up a study in the areas most affected would cost millions. Before a researcher could raise the money for such a test, they’d have to show some evidence that a vaccine works, which is where the 17 Dutch volunteers come into play.

No Risk, No Reward

Infectious disease physician Meta Roestenberg from the Leiden University Medical Center posited that if doctors could show that healthy young adults can withstand infection, they could prove there’s a quick and inexpensive way to test schistosomiasis vaccines in people.

To that end, they inserted 20 male larvae into each of their 17 participants. These larvae can’t reproduce, and at the end of the test, the doctors will administer a drug called Praziquantel to flush the infection and kill of any remaining parasites.

Whether the Praziquantel will rid participants of the parasites at the end of the study is a point of debate, though. Schistosomiasis researcher Daniel Colley told Science Magazine the treatment is “not terribly effective,” but according to a report from The New York Times, a Dutch ethics board signed off on the study, so officials must believe the participants are in no great danger.

So far, there have been no reports of volunteers having any stronger reaction to the parasites than a mild rash and a minor fever. Each is being paid $1,200 for their involvement, and if the study does lead to the creation of a vaccine, that small investment on the part of those funding this study will be well worth it.

The post To Cure a Deadly Disease, 17 People Will Be Knowingly Infected With Worms appeared first on Futurism.

We Now Have Soft Robots With a Sense of Touch. But Why?

Posted: 02 Mar 2018 11:24 AM PST

What is the big deal with soft robots? It seems like pretty much every week, another robot crawls onto the scene, seemingly alive with “hands,” a soft body, and even autonomous movement. They can look fairly mechanical, as in the case of underwater ROVs; or they can also look shockingly organic, like the Octobot — the first autonomous soft robot in the world. In a recent study published in the journal Advanced Materials, researchers at Harvard University have brought these lifelike robots to new heights by giving them the ability to sense and feel the world around them.

These are remarkable feats of engineering, to be sure. But soft robots are actually useful, too. And each incremental advance brings them closer to fulfilling their larger potential in a variety of applications.

Take this project from Harvard, that sensing soft robot. With a better sense of touch, robots can better respond to respond to pressure, movement, and even temperature. That’s simply cool (and frankly a little freaky to watch in videos), but that quality is also important because it could improve the precision and dexterity of robots and robotic extensions.

Soft robots that are more responsive to different types of stimuli make them more delicate and refined grippers — or “hands” — for machines. Whether researchers are picking up delicate specimens deep in the ocean or completing repairs on the outside of the ISS, it’s essential to have robotic extremities that are easy-to-control and dextrous. Pressure-sensitive grippers that can tell whether they’re holding a gelatinous squid or a tiny screw, and adjust their grip accordingly, could prevent time-consuming and even dangerous mistakes.

Soft robotics also have potential medical applications. Robots are increasingly making their way into surgical procedures, assisting physicians and turning major surgery into a minimally invasive procedure. If physicians used soft robots that could feel and respond to stimuli, they could be enormously more precise, and pose a smaller risk of damaging soft tissue and sensitive organs with the wrong amount of pressure.

When looking at a squiggling, transparent “octopus,” it can be difficult to see the practical applications of this emerging field — and one can only get excited so many times about a technology that doesn’t yet have any application to our lives. Yet despite the hype, each new advance does bring us closer to the broader use of soft robotics in place of existing technologies. When we get there, there’s no telling how much better our lives could get, or how much more scientists might know about the world.

The post We Now Have Soft Robots With a Sense of Touch. But Why? appeared first on Futurism.

Uh Oh: Blockchain May Not Be as Secure as We Thought

Posted: 02 Mar 2018 11:13 AM PST

Blockchain has the potential to transform our world. Experts insist the technology is “bigger than the internet,” but we may want to take a beat before we put everything from our money to our health records on blockchains. According to a new study, the technology isn’t nearly as secure as we thought.

Back in 2009, Bitcoin set the blockchain revolution in motion giving any two parties, anywhere, a way to quickly and securely transfer money.

Some blockchains, most notably Ethereum, take the utility of Bitcoin to the next level by incorporating smart contracts, which automate the process.

For example, say you want to buy 10 ether tokens, but only if the price drops below $600 per token. Smart contracts are set up to execute specific actions when they encounter a specific situation, so you could set one up to buy 10 ether when the price drops.

That’s not all they can do: while smart contracts can be as simple as the above, they can also be far more complicated. You could also set up a smart contract to buy ether if the cost hits below $600 per token, and you have an account balance above $10,000, and it’s a Friday.

Smart contracts are essential for industries outside of finance that want to take advantage of the blockchain technology. For example, if healthcare systems wanted to put medical records on a blockchain, it could use smart contracts to ensure only medical professionals are granted access to them.

While it all sounds good in theory, there is some bad news: a team of computing experts from the National University of Singapore and University College London published a study that details a surprising number of security flaws in smart contracts.

The group analyzed roughly one million smart contracts using a custom-built tool called MAIAN. The team was looking for contracts attackers could manipulate to lock funds indefinitely, force to leak funds randomly, or simply kill.

Their analysis tool flagged 34,200 contracts. It even found the flaw in the Parity blockchain app that rendered $169 million worth of ether inaccessible to owners back in July 2017. The team then manually analyzed 3,759 contracts and found they could exploit vulnerabilities in 3,686 of them.

Determining that roughly 3.4 percent of smart contracts could be vulnerable to attackers is huge. Sure, the centralized technologies we currently use to manage our finances and other important records aren’t ironclad. However, if we’re going to go through all the trouble of transitioning to a blockchain-supported digital economy, building a better system for record keeping isn’t enough.

We should strive to build the best system. Using tools like MAIAN to expose current weaknesses is a good place to start.

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 Uh Oh: Blockchain May Not Be as Secure as We Thought appeared first on Futurism.

EU to Internet Companies: You Have Three Months to Get Rid of Extremist Content

Posted: 02 Mar 2018 10:55 AM PST

The European Union has given internet companies including YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, and Google three months to start taking steps to remove extremist content.

The European Commission advised companies that removing “terrorist content” like hate speech and Islamic State propaganda should be prioritized, according to a report from Reuters. They also set guidelines for curbing other illegal content, including the unauthorized sharing of copyrighted material — but companies have six months, not three, to address those concerns.

"While several platforms have been removing more illegal content than ever before … we still need to react faster against terrorist propaganda and other illegal content which is a serious threat to our citizens' security, safety and fundamental rights," said Digital commissioner Andrus Ansip in a press release.

The Commission also stated that internet companies needed to be prepared to take down extremist content within an hour of being notified. It recommended companies are implement automated systems that flag and remove illegal content as soon as it is posted.

While these recommendations are non-binding, they could factor into future legislation. If there isn’t sufficient evidence after three months that internet companies are curbing recommended content, the European Commission may pass continent-wide laws that would compel companies to pursue similar action.

Germany already introduced a law to curb the use of social media to publish hate speech in October 2017. Sites and services that don’t get rid of the content within 24 hours (or seven days for more complex cases) are subject to fines of up to €50 million by German authorities, according to a report from Tech Crunch.

European Union legislation could follow a similar format.

Both Germany and the European Union’s guidelines are efforts to minimize the flood of easily accessible extremist content on the internet. According to the Guardian, European governments have said that this type of content has inspired radical individuals who have executed terrorist attacks in various European cities.

If the EU can successfully curb terrorist content on the internet, it could play a role in preventing tragedies like the Paris attacks in November 2015, or the 2016 attack on a Christmas market in Berlin.

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Apple to Launch Medical Practices to Treat Its Own Employees

Posted: 02 Mar 2018 10:29 AM PST

What if your employer was really invested in your health? I don’t mean just providing you with insurance. I mean operating the clinic itself.

Well, Apple employees will soon find out: the company plans to launch new medical practices, named AC Wellness, to treat Apple employees in spring 2018, CNBC reports. The company will start with two clinics in Santa Clara County, California, near its headquarters in Cupertino.

“AC Wellness is an independent medical practice dedicated to delivering compassionate, effective healthcare to the Apple employee population,” according to the AC Wellness homepage.

There are already numerous job listings for an acute care physician, primary care physician, exercise coach, nurse coordinator, and more. According to CNBC, Apple is also looking for “designers” to create programs focused on preventing disease and promoting healthy behavior. Furthermore, the clinics will serve as a testing ground for various health-related products and services.

Homepage for Apple's AC Wellness. Image Credit: AC Wellness
Homepage for Apple’s AC Wellness. Image Credit: AC Wellness.

Apple isn’t the first company to try its hand at healthcare — last month Amazon announced that it intends to create a healthcare company of its own with Berkshire Hathaway and JPMorgan Chase. Amazon, however, hasn’t announced when its company will go live, so chances are Apple’s initiative will open first.

The two corporate giants’ moves towards commandeering their employees’ healthcare bring the future of the U.S. healthcare landscape into question. Companies already exert a modicum of control over their employees’ healthcare options and other benefits, and companies like Google have begun adding on-site wellness centers, physicians, and chiropractors for their workers.

Companies don’t do this out of the goodness of their hearts. Health issues cause 69 million workers to skip work each year, reducing economic output by $260 billion per year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Healthier employees also cost less in the long run because their insurance is cheaper. In short, lower healthcare costs equals higher profits.

So all these benefits, this new corporate obsession with subsidizing healthcare? It’s employers looking out for their bottom line.

So far, none of the reports have discussed the potential privacy issues that may arise from an employer that operates the clinic where an employee seeks care. There are strict laws governing patient privacy, which Apple will have to be sure not to violate as it both employs and treats people.

Amazon and Apple don’t have their own healthcare companies up and running just yet, so we can only speculate. Hopefully their moves might change employee health benefits for the better.

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