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If You Jaywalk in China, Facial Recognition Means You’ll Walk Away With A Fine

Posted: 30 Mar 2018 08:05 AM PDT

Residents of Shenzhen don’t dare jaywalk.

Since April 2017, this city in China’s Guangdong province has deployed a rather intense technique to deter jaywalking. Anyone who crosses against the light will find their face, name, and part of their government ID number displayed on a large LED screen above the intersection, thanks to facial recognition devices all over the city.

If that feels invasive, you don’t even know the half of it. Now, Motherboard reports that a Chinese artificial intelligence company is partnering the system with mobile carriers, so that offenders receive a text message with a fine as soon as they are caught.

The system is just one cog in the vast surveillance machine that the Chinese government has been building over the last several years. Its aim is in part public safety and security, but the information on citizens’ whereabouts and activities will also feed into China’s national social credit system.

The social credit system, which will roll out in 2020, is intended to rate individuals according to a national scoring system for how trustworthy a citizen each person is. Citizens with a low score might be refused certain jobs, pay more for certain services, and according to China’s National Development and Reform Commission, even be banned from traveling. According to Fortune, that travel restriction could kick in from a wide range of offenses, from spreading fake information about terrorism to smoking on the train.

It’s like an Orwellian fever dream, we know.

The facial recognition scheme may a humdrum, run-of-the-mill aspect of life for citizens who have no expectation of privacy. But in fact, it does seem the Chinese people care about privacy. After the CEO of Baidu, China’s largest search engine, publicly said, "If they [Chinese] are able to exchange privacy for safety, convenience or efficiency, in many cases, they are willing to do that, then we can make more use of that data," a heated online uproar ensued.

Still, we don’t blame you if the concept of social credit feels unsettling. It’s not exactly likely that the Chinese government will be transparent about how they decide what leads to deductions or restrictions. Human Rights Watch (HRW) states that “the near future for human rights appears grim” in China, given the country’s history of muzzling free speech and punishing those who speak out against the government; though HRW makes no mention of the social credit system, it’s possible that the system could lead to a continuation, or exacerbation, of these practices in the future.

Yes, the technology deployed around China could be useful. But the nation’s unsettling track record serves as a reminder of how its power could easily be abused.

The post If You Jaywalk in China, Facial Recognition Means You’ll Walk Away With A Fine appeared first on Futurism.

This Week in Science: Mar 24 – Mar 30, 2018

Posted: 30 Mar 2018 04:00 AM PDT

Mailchimp is Shutting Down ICO and Blockchain-related Emails, and People Are Freaking Out

Posted: 29 Mar 2018 05:39 PM PDT

Consider this a shot across the bow of the entire ICO and blockchain-related sector: email marketing service Mailchimp recently enacted a policy shutting off Blockchain and ICO related accounts. Now, the first victims of this policy are getting the news, and responding in kind by attempting to read the riot act to a Twitter account whose avatar is a monkey with a hat.

Mailchimp announced the policy by alerting its customers on Thursday over email. Its customers freaked out. Like so:

We reached out to Mailchimp to see what the deal was. A rep for the company explained:

We're looking into this particular account, but if an account holder believes there's been a mistake, they are encouraged to reach out to with the details, and MailChimp's Legal team will take a closer look.

The company then reiterated its updated Acceptable Use Policy, which states that the company “does not allow businesses involved in any aspect of the sale, transaction, exchange, storage, marketing, or production of cryptocurrencies, virtual currencies, and any digital assets related to an Initial Coin Offering, to use MailChimp to facilitate or support any of those activities.”

In other words: If you’re making money on an ICO or blockchain, you won’t be doing it on Mailchimp. But talking about blockchain or ICOs? Totally fine:

The promotion and exchange of cryptocurrencies is too frequently associated with scams, fraud, phishing, and potentially misleading business practices at this time. It's important to note that this update to our policy does not prevent the discussion of related topics in messages sent through our platform. For example, journalists and publications may send cryptocurrency-related information as long as they're not involved in the production, sale, exchange, storage, or marketing of cryptocurrencies.

Also, it’s not that they hate blockchain or your specific ICO, they just hate the con artists:

We recognize that blockchain technology is in its infancy and has tremendous potential. Nonetheless…

Nonetheless, indeed! We asked a few more questions about how MailChimp can actually delineate between emails from people involved in the shilling and profiteering of blockchain and ICOs versus people having news-related discussions of blockchain and ICOs (because, LOL, in the current moment, most non-algorithmic humans have a justifiably tough time distinguishing between the two). We’ll update here if they respond.

In the mean time, it’ll be a hell of a lot of fun to watch (1) which companies follow MailChimp’s lead, (2) which companies capitalize off of the fact that they nixed this entire segment of people from their platform and go all in on blockchain, sweeping ’em up in Mailchimp’s place, and (3) watching all of blockchain and ICO Twitter collectively lose their minds about feeling censored and repressed. Confidential to everyone in crypto: Mailchimp isn’t the Democratic Republic of North Korea (which you don’t live in).

They’re not even the only email marketing company in the world! It’s just the only one with adorable and ubiquitous podcast mid-roll ads. You’ll live another day, we swear.

The post Mailchimp is Shutting Down ICO and Blockchain-related Emails, and People Are Freaking Out appeared first on Futurism.

It’s Happening: British Man Has Uniquely Resistant Strain of Gonorrhea

Posted: 29 Mar 2018 02:52 PM PDT

It’s not a great feeling to know that you scared your doctors. Unfortunately for a man in the U.K, he recently did so: he displayed a case of gonorrhea that so dramatically resisted treatment that it chilled his physicians.

That’s partially because gonorrhea isn’t the best thing to leave untreated. But another reason: this case is a harbinger of a looming crisis.

Gonorrhea is an infection caused by a bacteria. Usually antibiotics can kill it. But after some time, the bacteria evolves to become resistant to that treatment. It also happens to be one of the world’s most common STDs, with 78 million new cases every year. 30 percent of all gonorrhea infections are resistant to at least one antibiotic, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

We’ve known this was coming. In 2017, the WHO raised a worldwide alarm about the rising spread of resistance to older and cheaper antibiotics. Some countries with better monitoring systems, the UN agency said in a statement, found cases of resistance to all known antibiotics.

This case is one of the first of its kind. The man is reported to have visited a clinic earlier this year, and was given a combination of two antibiotics, azithromycin and ceftriaxone, that was known to be effective in getting rid of the disease. After the cocktail failed to wipe out the infection, the patient is now being treated with injections of a stronger antibiotic called ertapenem and will be tested again next month, PHE said in a report.

As reported by The Guardian, the U.K. government agency Public Health England (PHE) revealed that the patient who caught the highly resistant strain had a female partner in the country, but might have been infected during a trip in Southeast Asia. Authorities are tracking down the man’s partners to try and contain the spread of the disease.

“These cases may just be the tip of the iceberg, since systems to diagnose and report untreatable infections are lacking in lower-income countries where gonorrhea is actually more common,” said Teodora Wi, a human reproduction expert with WHO, in a 2017 press release.

New antibiotics are hard to come by. They are expensive to produce, and resistance evolves fast, thanks to their extensive use in agriculture and farming.

And we’re already feeling the effects. Superbugs claim the lives of up to 50,000 people every year in Europe and the U.S. alone, according to the U.K.’s Review on Antimicrobial Resistance. Globally, drug resistant infections kill at least 700,000 people every year.

Those deaths are mostly due to resistance to cheap, widely-available antibiotics. What makes this gonorrhea case notable? So far it has resisted treatments previously considered very effective. Doctors are treating the patient with more powerful antibiotics in the hope they might finally work.

Until we have more effective treatments for gonorrhea and other antibiotic-resistant infections, the only way to avoid catching a potentially untreatable STI is the same that prevents a treatable one: protected sex.

So if you needed an extra reminder to stay safe in the boudoir, well, here you go.

The post It’s Happening: British Man Has Uniquely Resistant Strain of Gonorrhea appeared first on Futurism.

Chileans Criticize US Scientists Over Treatment of Ata the “Alien” Mummy

Posted: 29 Mar 2018 01:53 PM PDT

It looks like an alien, but its story is much stranger. And now it’s causing an international incident.

Chilean scientists and government officials are protesting a study published in the journal Genome Research on March 22. It’s not the study’s conclusions or science they take issue with, though. It’s the study’s subject: the body of a mummified Chilean girl.

Alien enthusiasts are pretty obsessed with Ata, a 6-inch-long skeleton that was discovered in 2003. Oscar Munoz found the tiny mummy in a leather pouch in a Chilean ghost town near the Atacama Desert (hence its name), and soon after, rumors began swirling as to Ata’s origin.

See, the Chilean mummy looked human-ish, but it also looked, well, kind of not.

Why Haven’t We Found Aliens? An Analysis of the Problem [INFOGRAPHIC]
Click to View Full Infographic

Ata had a conical head shape and large eye sockets that looked straight out of a sci-fi film. The mummy was barely the length of a 19-week-old human fetus, but had bones as mature as those of a six-year-old. It also had hard teeth and only 10 pairs of ribs while humans have 12.

Cue the alien hunter hype.

Eventually, the Chilean mummy landed in the private collection of a Spanish businessman. In 2012, he gave Steven Greer, a doctor and founder of the Center for the Study of Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence (CSETI), permission to analyze it. Greer, in turn, gave Garry Nolan, an immunologist at Stanford University, samples of Ata’s bone marrow and other genetic material.

In 2013, Nolan dashed the hopes of alien hunters everywhere by concluding that Ata was fully human. “There’s no doubt about it,” he told Science Magazine at the time.

Case closed, right? Not so much.

This week, Nolan and his team published new research about the Chilean mummy in the journal Genome Research. In it, the researchers provide an explanation for Ata’s alien-like appearance: seven different genetic mutations.

“Once we understood that it was human, the next step was to understand how something could come to look like this,” Nolan told National Geographic.

Chile strongly disagrees. The next step should have been returning Ata to her country of origin.

Once Nolan published his findings in 2013, Ata was no longer an “it” but a “she,” and as such, the tiny mummy should have received all the protections given to the remains of any other human.

On March 25, Cristina Dorado, a biologist at Chile’s University of Antofagasta, published a commentary in Etilmercurio citing a number of legal and ethical issues with Nolan’s latest work. She wrote that, while the study did have scientific value, it failed to consider the legal and ethical implications of studying a human body.

Furthermore, the researchers themselves concluded that Ata, whom Dorado calls “the girl from La Noria,” was likely born just 40 years ago, meaning her parents could still be alive.

Dorado called upon Genome Research to retract the article, but that doesn’t seem likely. The journal’s editor, Hilary Sussman, told The New York Times the publication “will return to [the issue of studying DNA from ancient human remains] in future issues of the journal.” In other words, it’s not happening right now.

Still, as Dorado notes, this is far from the first example of the “plunder and sale of mummified bodies.” Genome Research might not retract the article on Ata, but perhaps the controversy surrounding the study will give other scientists pause before they move forward with research on human remains.

The post Chileans Criticize US Scientists Over Treatment of Ata the “Alien” Mummy appeared first on Futurism.

Don’t Just Delete Facebook — Delete Well

Posted: 29 Mar 2018 01:07 PM PDT

You’ve gotten a glimpse, by now, of the many ways in which your (seemingly irrelevant) personal data can be harvested by Facebook, and some of the purposes that third parties can find for it.

In the interest of privacy, some have concluded that it’s high time to quit the network. But by now you might know: Deserting the platform is not enough to protect your privacy.

So if you choose to #deletefacebook, don’t be tricked into simply “deactivating” your account.

That option has no effect on your data, which remains in Facebook’s servers.

To make sure that is deleted too, The Guardian has a handy explainer: Click on this help doc, go through to the “let us know” link which leads you to the magic “delete” button. Facebook has a hard time letting go, so that won’t go through for another couple of weeks (Facebook says that’s needed to process the request), plus 90 days (to actually wipe out your data from its servers).

But you’ll get there. At least, that’s what Facebook promises.

One experienced developer isn’t willing to take Facebook’s word for it. Kevin Matthew has worked in systems administration for 20 years, and told Motherboard that “everyone has data retention policies and backups… Facebook, with its infinite amount of resources, I can only begin to imagine how that data is being held and retained."

He created a script that “poisons” your Facebook record, turning your posts into useless, junky strings of random letters. By running it over and over again, a big chunk of your posts will become a fog that the site’s algorithm can’t interpret. Although it’s currently only available to those who code, in the future the script might become an easy-to-use desktop app.

"Every little bit of information contributes to that invisible profile that they're building of everyone," Matthew told Motherboard. "If we can obfuscate it even a little bit, that at least puts the power back into your hands as an end user."

We admit, it kind of sucks to have to delete your account. Ideally, Facebook, which has made its service integral to a substantial portion of the world population, would own up and make things right. But so far, that’s not happening. So the more tools you have to stand up for yourself and your privacy, the better.

Deleting your account may be a statement, but here’s one crappy thing to remember:  Facebook gathers data from all around the internet, from people who don’t even own an account. That’s because of cookies, plus the seemingly random “Like” buttons scattered around sites, from retailers to digital publications.

Even deleting your account doesn’t rid you of Facebook’s control. And honestly we’re yet not sure how to avoid that one, short of throwing your devices in the ocean (don’t throw your devices in the ocean).

The post Don’t Just Delete Facebook — Delete Well appeared first on Futurism.

The Government Wants To Share Your Health Data. That’s Not A Terrible Idea.

Posted: 29 Mar 2018 12:40 PM PDT

The Centers of Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) want to give you more access to your healthcare data. And they want to help third party companies get at it, too, according to an announcement earlier this month and a recent article from Stat News.

That might sound scary, especially since you’ve been hearing a lot about your data lately, in part thanks to Facebook’s Cambridge Analytica scandal. Especially because it’s your medical data, and what could be more personal than that?

But it’s actually not that bad an idea.

First, a little background. In your lifetime you’ve created a tremendously detailed cache of healthcare data. Checkups, dental procedures, medications, that one ER visit in college… all of this information is about your body and could be used to create a picture of your overall health.

There’s a catch: that data is stored in four different systems. And they don’t automatically share data with one another — your dentist’s office won’t send your records to your doctor’s office unless you ask. Lacking access to complete records increases the risk of unnecessary treatments and medical error.

In CMS’s vision, all that data would be available in a central location patients can access anywhere, anytime. The program, called MyHealthEData, would give care providers all that information so they could offer patients the best possible treatment, especially in emergencies.

The program goes one step further  it wants to hand this history over to third party companies as well. That could include medical researchers, health app creators, and pharmaceutical manufacturers. Sharing it could further medical research by providing scientists with data that is otherwise hard to access, leading to treatments that are more effective and better tailored to individual patients.

There are risks, of course. So much valuable data in one place is basically a bull’s eye for hackers. Government infrastructure has been the target of such attacks before, and they are likely to increase in the future.

One thing you at least don’t need to worry about? CMS intentionally sharing your data without your knowledge. Thanks, HIPAA (the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPPA) established a national standard of health data protection and security measures which ensure your records can’t be shared without your consent)!

The ultimate result may be a healthcare ecosystem in which medical professionals, your devices, and patients themselves are better connected. A physician who can see data from a patient’s smartwatch, for example, might be better able to see the signs of a heart attack before it happens.

That kind of system is still a ways off. But to get there, we’ll need to pay close attention to who has access to all our medical records, and especially how those records can be protected. If we do it right, our lives will be the better for it. And if we don’t, well, hackers will auction off our medical data to the highest bidder. The stakes are pretty high.

The post The Government Wants To Share Your Health Data. That’s Not A Terrible Idea. appeared first on Futurism.

Assassin’s Creed’s New Discovery Mode Is What Museums Will Look Like In The Future

Posted: 29 Mar 2018 11:24 AM PDT

A crimson red sun peeks out behind the pyramids of Giza. You’re standing in the middle of an ancient bazaar, that is suddenly shrouded in the glowing particles of a fierce sandstorm. A young girl grabs your hand, pulling you towards a tall overhang made of giant slabs of limestone.

This is what it’s like to play one of Ubisoft’s blockbuster Assassin’s Creed games. There’s staggering attention to detail, loyalty to historical accuracy, plus a dash of creative freedom. Ubisoft’s development team has been reconstructing ancient worlds — from Italy’s 15th century Renaissance to the Ptolemaic period of ancient Egypt — since 2007.

Image Credit: Ubisoft

Now, the developer is trying to break the boundaries of how video games fit into our lives, bringing its newest offering (Assassin’s Creed Origins) into the classroom. Ubisoft released Assassin’s Creed Origins: The Discovery Tour, a stripped-down version of its blockbuster title that includes 75 interactive tours of ancient Egypt, sans fighting or other distractions.

Each tour ranges from five to 25 minutes, and users can chose their own avatars, including historical figures such as Cleopatra and Caesar. The team first stripped conflict and narrative from Assassin’s Creed Origins, and then made the full map of Egypt accessible, creating narratives around different interactive tours.

The idea makes a lot of sense. They’ve already done the hard work of painstakingly reconstructing ancient worlds, and there’s so much information packed into a gaming experience that most players take for granted anyway. By adapting the game into an education-appropriate format, Ubisoft has created a virtual museum — an interactive, and immersive experience meant to make students experience ancient history as they learn.

A virtual museum certainly seems much more appealing to a generation of gamers, especially compared to its dusty, real-world counterpart. Visitors are given agency, choosing their own paths as they explore the digital world.

Ubisoft’s own testing shows it’s promising. The company invited 300 10-year-old students to explore the Discovery Tour, and found it helped them retain more information.

And the folks at Ubisoft aren’t the only ones who think it’s a good idea. “Ever since the first game, we had a lot of testimonies from teachers, from professors, asking, ‘Would you consider making a version of AC without conflict, without narrative?’ They’d been using Assassin’s Creed, recording sessions with their own consoles, trying to bring it into classrooms – but the age rating, for instance, was an issue,” Maxime Durand, Ubisoft’s in-house historian (yeah, they have one of those) in a Q&A published on the company’s web site.

It’s an exciting glimpse into what a video game can offer (beyond the sandbox capabilities of Minecraft). As games that incorporate augmented and virtual reality become more mainstream and diverse, the museum of the future may be even more immersive than we can imagine.

The post Assassin’s Creed’s New Discovery Mode Is What Museums Will Look Like In The Future appeared first on Futurism.

An Amphibian Plague Recovery Could Spell Good News for Animal Disease

Posted: 29 Mar 2018 11:00 AM PDT

A decade ago, a deadly fungus ravaged amphibian populations around the world, pushing several species into extinction.

It’s a sadly familiar story on a planet with no shortage of bad news for animals.

But recently researchers have discovered a croak of hope — some species may be able to adapt to this fungus and bounce back from its destruction.

Researchers working in Panama found that nine of 12 species that had been devastated by chytrid fungus had recovered, and that local frogs were less susceptible to the fungus than lab-raised animals. Because the fungus itself didn’t seem to be any different, the researchers suspected the amphibians had developed resistance to the disease, just as if they had been given a vaccine.

Ideally, amphibians everywhere would be able to adapt to the fungus — and do so sooner rather than later, since amphibian populations are rapidly declining and face unique threats from climate change.

Yet the discovery could also be a good sign in the larger scope of animal disease. Fungal diseases have become more prevalent and more deadly in wildlife in around the globe, for reasons that scientists still don’t fully understand. Unsurprisingly, humans — our affinity for global travel, insistence on trading exotic pets from continent to continent, and tendency to destroy habitats — are the number one suspect.

If multiple species were able to adapt to chytrid fungus, maybe they could develop resistance to other potent fungal diseases, such as the white nose fungus that has already wiped out up to 97 percent of some North American bat populations. In fact, this might be happening — there are early signs that some surviving bats are beginning to reproduce again, potentially passing along the genes that make them resistant.

Earth is rapidly becoming less biodiverse; some experts estimate that it’s already below “safe” levels for the planet, and extinction cascades are imminent. Animals have always found ways to adapt to disease and other population threats, but that’s become harder lately, thanks to humans. Indications that species may be able to survive to these new threats are rare, glimmering signs of hope.

The post An Amphibian Plague Recovery Could Spell Good News for Animal Disease appeared first on Futurism.