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

Posted: 31 Mar 2018 07:25 AM PDT

Super-Local Broadband May Be The Best Way to Preserve Net Neutrality

Posted: 30 Mar 2018 02:41 PM PDT

Water, electricity, internet: Three things that Americans can increasingly not live without.

Recently, though, that last item has seemed under threat. Earlier this year the FCC repealed net neutrality, allowing U.S. internet service providers (ISPs) to control the price of broadband speed and threatening equal access to information, education and other essential online services.

The battle may seem lost. But the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has a plan to fight back.

In a recent report shipped to 100 mayors in 30 states, ACLU makes the case that, instead of leaving internet in the hands of private companies, it should be the concern of local administrators.

The report points out that the move would be perfectly legal, too. “Nothing the FCC has done prevents a city, county, or town from directing its own, municipally run service to honor strong network neutrality and privacy policies,” it reads.

Empowering cities to run their own internet networks could help bypass the power of private corporations, but has other important benefits, too. According to a report by the consulting firm Economist Incorporated, over 56 million households in the country don’t have access to high-speed broadband. That’s partly because many communities are too small and remote to be a good investment for ISPs.

Take the village of Pinetops, North Carolina. According to Motherboard, the town of 1,300 people had a long legal struggle with Big Telecom and eventually won the right to keep its municipal broadband — until a private company decided to step in and offer the same service.
In remote communities, people don’t mind paying for internet access: “We had it and they wanted to take it away,” Suzanne Coker Craig, a local commissioner and business owner told Motherboard. “Our folks are very excited to have it back.”
At the core of ACLU’s call for action is the idea that internet access is a democratic right. “Municipal systems should be built to serve all residents equally,” the report says, “even though the demands of affluent neighborhoods might be louder than others.” If Pinetops’ experience is anything to go by, the idea is sure to face some stern opposition from private ISPs.
But the case is strong for cities to take the lead, and the successful examples, many of which are of conservative communities, speak for themselves: “They're reaping the benefits of local control over what has become an indispensable utility,” Jay Stanley, one of the ACLU’s report authors, wrote in a blogpost. “Other cities would be wise to consider taking a similar path.”

The post Super-Local Broadband May Be The Best Way to Preserve Net Neutrality appeared first on Futurism.

Mind-Controlled Mice Navigate Mazes, No Longer Crave Food

Posted: 30 Mar 2018 01:40 PM PDT

Being a literal lab rat has its perks. Free room and board. Plus all your diseases, from blindness to cancer, get cured. Suddenly one day you realize you’re no longer thirsty… how neat!

There are downsides, like the fact that the researchers give you those diseases in the first place. And now you can’t even make your own way to the other side of a damn maze without having your brain controlled by a device that tells you where to go.

Researchers at the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology recently created cyborg mice that obeyed the commands of their human overlords, ignoring sex and food cravings entirely, to make it thorough a maze. To do this, the team of researchers “hacked” into the mice’s brains using a technique called optogenetics — a process in which fiberoptic threads (or similar tools) are inserted into the brain to manipulate the activity of neurons in living tissue. Turning these threads on and off affect light-responsive proteins, influencing their function.

For this experiment, researchers made a mouse crave a ball that was placed in front of it, then chase it wildly. Turning the signal off immediately made the mouse completely disinterested in the ball. Whether the mice seemed completely bewildered by their dramatic change in desires was not altogether clear (or, at least, observable).

Next, the researchers took control of the cyborg mouse, steering it through a vicious trial maze of distractions: a female mouse in heat, an Indiana-Jones-like bridge obstacle, and plenty of delicious food. With the mind-control switch flipped to “on,” the scientists were able to steer the mouse straight to the other end of the maze.

And what’s the point, you may rightfully ask? The team imagines the technology could help officials control animals needed to complete scent-sensitive missions, like search and rescue, landmine detection, and sniffing out drugs.

Compared to the stiff, stumble-prone (yet determined) robots of today, animals are far more agile and able to cross treacherous terrain. "Animals are naturally able to live and move through complex environments and, of course, do not need batteries," Daesoo Kim, project lead, tells IEEE Spectrum.

Indeed, scientists have created “remote-controlled” animals before, mostly as a proof of concept. Last year the team developed a “parasitic robot” that was mounted to the back of a turtle, and controlled its movements with a “heads-up LED display” and feeder. In 2012, researchers created cyborg cockroaches that manipulated its sensory organs with the use of a wireless transmitter glued to its back, but with external stimuli, not optogenetics.

You might wonder when this kind of technology could be used in humans. There are medical uses for deep brain stimulation, such as treatments of Parkinson’s disease. But as for using optogenetics to help us avoid snack foods, seems like we’re a ways off.

The post Mind-Controlled Mice Navigate Mazes, No Longer Crave Food appeared first on Futurism.

Robot Exoskeletons, Artificial Muscles, Handheld Printers — Here Are the Top 6 Advances in Tech (So Far)

Posted: 30 Mar 2018 12:58 PM PDT

Six technology advancements will revolutionize our future, but which will have the biggest impact?

The post Robot Exoskeletons, Artificial Muscles, Handheld Printers — Here Are the Top 6 Advances in Tech (So Far) appeared first on Futurism.

Here’s Why A California Court Requires Cancer Risk Warnings on Coffee

Posted: 30 Mar 2018 12:26 PM PDT

Coffee: life-giver, day-starter, conversation-lubricant… cancer risk?

Don’t pour out your cup of joe just yet.

A California judge has ruled that coffee companies must display a warning that this morning pick-me-up carries a cancer risk. The ruling, levied against 91 coffee companies, specifically concerns a chemical called acrylamide. Acrylamide is, indeed, found in all coffees. It’s also used in industrial processes, like making plastic or paper, and can be found in cigarette smoke. According to the American Cancer Society, lab-based studies have found that acrylamide increases rodents’ risk for several types of cancer when given doses in their drinking water.

A cup of coffee in a blue cup on a sheet of burlap scattered with coffee beans. The science over whether this cup or those beans increase your cancer risk is still shaky.
A morning pick-me-up, or a cup of roasty, delicious cancer? Image credit: acekreations / Pixabay

But that’s hardly justification for making people afraid of their lattes. Acrylamide is not just found in coffee; it’s found in lots of other foods, from toast to french fries to baked goods. That’s because the chemical is produced naturally when starches in foods are subjected to high temperatures (above 250 degrees Fahrenheit, or 121 degrees Celsius). The same process (it’s called the Maillard reaction, FYI) that produces acrylamide is the same one that gives roasted, toasted or baked foods their distinctive brown crust and warm flavor. Mmm, acrylamide.

CNN reports that the California court stated that coffee contains a “high amount” of acrylamide, but it doesn’t seem to be comparing that amount to anything; the FDA currently does not suggest maximum recorded levels for acrylamide in any products.

A 2013 study found that roasted coffee contains an average of 179 micrograms per kilogram (µg/kg), or about .45 µg per cup. For a comparison, another study found that a slice of toasted wheat bread could contain between 11 and 161 µg/kg acrylamide, while a slice of toasted rye bread could have 27 to 205 µg/kg of the chemical. Potato products, in particular potato chips, can have much higher levels — some chips can reach nearly 3900 µg/kg. (Keep in mind that because this measure is by weight, so an individual chip will still have very little of the chemical. Whew.)

The decision to single out coffee, therefore, seems rather arbitrary.

What’s more, in the few animal studies linking this chemical to cancer risk, rats and mice consumed way more than humans normally would get from their food  between 1,000 to 10,000 times more. The American Cancer Society reports that, since acrylamide was discovered in foods in 2002, dozens of studies in people have examined whether eating this chemical in food is associated with any increased cancer risk. And most cancers don’t seem to have any causal relationship with the chemical. There have been some mixed results related to kidney, endometrial, and ovarian cancer, but nothing so straightforward as an eat-this-then-boom-cancer relationship.

In short, as we’ve pointed out before, it’s unscientific and unrealistic to say a specific food causes cancer. The most reliable, proven research indicates that cancer is caused by a multitude of factors, including your genetics and your environment throughout your life.

Requiring that coffee companies put a cancer warning on their product will just contribute to unwarranted paranoia about what we eat. Too much coffee makes us anxious enough as it is.

The post Here’s Why A California Court Requires Cancer Risk Warnings on Coffee appeared first on Futurism.

Donald Trump Is Still Going in on Jeff Bezos and Amazon, Still Getting Basic Facts Laughably Incorrect

Posted: 30 Mar 2018 11:32 AM PDT

If you’re the kind of person who gets up in the morning wondering what kind of mischief the American President got up to on Twitter while you were sleeping, first, seek help. Also, congrats, you got a fresh batch of Rage at Amazon Dot Com again, today.

The (apparently one-sided) Trump-Bezos Feud has been going on for years, but continues to heat up as Donald Trump…continues to live in the White House.

Refresher: Axios reported the most recent rumblings of Trump’s obsession with (and resentment of) the company. Several people privy to the matter noted that POTUS was interested in going after the company wielding anti-trust laws.

But it wasn’t clear whether this was because of some of Amazon’s actual practices, or perhaps because Jeff Bezos, the Amazon CEO, also happens to own the Washington Post. And as usual, there’s no better way to gain insight into the President’s mindset (and foreign policy decisions, and White House hiring) than Twitter:

The ire that some heads of state reserve for terrorists or enemies of the state is now being allotted by Trump to Bezos and his world-dominating corporate powerhouse.

In classic Trump fashion, the facts aren’t exactly on his side. Amazon’s been paying taxes in California since 2012, and charged customers in all other states, according to the New York Times. And instead of taking advantage of the U.S. Postal Service, Amazon’s actually one of the few reasons the embattled agency is still around, the Wall Street Journal reports.

That’s not to say Amazon doesn’t have its problems. Its warehouse employees are systematically stressed and overworked. And that goes without mentioning that whole worker-tracking wristband thing. Among other things. So far, the only fallout from Trump’s Tweets is Amazon’s stock taking a dip in the past few days. It’s anyone’s guess as to whether those drops will affect the company in the long term (or if this is all Trump wants to accomplish with his bluster).

Not that it matters. Trump’s going to keep doing his thing, to whatever aim he has (or whatever has his attention-deficit-addled Eye of Sauron at any given moment). In other words: Just another Friday in 2018.

The post Donald Trump Is Still Going in on Jeff Bezos and Amazon, Still Getting Basic Facts Laughably Incorrect appeared first on Futurism.

SpaceX Launched Another Falcon9, But Failed to Recover Its Nose Cone

Posted: 30 Mar 2018 10:56 AM PDT

As SpaceX blazes trails of commercial spaceflight and makes rockets reusable, there are gonna be some errors along the way. Today’s error happens to cost $6 million.

Today, SpaceX launched another rocket, sending 10 communication satellites into orbit. The launch itself went well, but the component that was meant to be rescued after the launch plunged in the ocean “at high speed.”

Today’s mission, called Iridium-5, was the fifth of eight launches meant to deploy 66 working satellites (plus nine spares) into orbit within the span of a few months.

On March 6, the Falcon9 successfully sent a satellite into orbit. Instead of trying to collect the components, Musk and his crew just let them fall into the Atlantic. That made today’s mission an important attempt — if Elon Musk is to make history with the first reusable rocket, he needed to show that at least some of its components can be salvaged and put to work again.

That’s what the team at SpaceX intended to do with this Falcon9 launch, with the help of a ship named Mr. Steven (Musk says the name was “just random”). They deployed the ship to catch half of the rocket’s fairing — aka its nose cone, the component at the top of the rocket that protects the satellites during the launch — before it fell into the ocean.

For pretty much every rocket launch up until now, the fairing was a disposable part of a spacecraft, and after splitting into two it would be left to fall back into the ocean, CNN explains. “Once it gets into the water, it’s quite damaging to the electronics and components inside the fairing,” Glenn Lightsey, a professor of aerospace engineering at Georgia Tech told the broadcaster. “Most likely if it gets into the water, it’s not usable.”

The problem? This unsexy bit of rocket is very expensive, costing around $6 million.

And Musk is a practical guy, as CNN reminded us: “[If] you had $6 million in cash on a palette flying through the air,” he reportedly said, “and it’s going to smash into the ocean, would you try to recover it? Yes. Yes, you would.”

However, catching a piece of rocket as it falls back from the sky is, like, literally rocket science. And although Elon got us used to unlikely successes, this time Mr. Steven failed him.

Musk’s a little frustrated:

Another $6 million may be lost as the cone nose drowned, but the experiment isn’t over — you can bet Musk will try again.

SpaceX, Musk said in a tweet, will perform new tests to figure out what went wrong, so they can do better the next time around.

The post SpaceX Launched Another Falcon9, But Failed to Recover Its Nose Cone appeared first on Futurism.

Pruitt’s EPA Will Give Automakers What They Want: Fewer Emissions Rules

Posted: 30 Mar 2018 10:15 AM PDT

Thanks (for trying), Obama.

The Environmental Protection Agency (E.P.A.) is moving forward with plans to roll back the former president’s emissions standards for automobiles.

Back in 2010, the Obama administration altered the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards, requiring automakers to meet a minimum fuel standard of 54.5 miles per gallon for vehicles by 2025.

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

According to the E.P.A.’s own projections, passenger vehicles in model years 2012 through 2025 that meet these emissions standards would decrease the country’s oil consumption by 12 billion barrels, and its greenhouse gas emissions by 6 billion metric tons over the vehicles’ lifetimes.

But with a new administration in charge, it’s likely those goals won’t be met.

This week, an E.P.A. spokesperson confirmed that the agency’s head, Scott Pruitt, has sent the White House a draft of a 16-page plan to revisit those standards. Two sources familiar with the matter told The New York Times the plan could “substantially roll back the Obama-era standards.”

“The proposed rollback is going to be quite a significant number,” Myron Ebell, director of global warming and international environmental policy at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, told The Times. “It will be more than a couple [miles per gallon].”

Automakers have been eager to lower the CAFE standards, which they deem expensive and difficult to attain. And the president and his administration have seemed just as eager to acquiesce. “My administration will work tirelessly to eliminate the industry-killing regulations,” Trump told autoworkers during a speech in March 2017.

Now that Pruitt has delivered a plan, Trump’s one step closer to keeping that promise, and it has environmental experts concerned.

“This is certainly a big deal,” Robert Stavins, director of Harvard’s environmental economics program, told The Times. “The result will be more gas-guzzling vehicles on the road, greater total gasoline consumption, and a significant increase in carbon dioxide emissions.”

We should know the specifics of Pruitt’s plan for revising emissions standards later this year, according to The Times’s sources.

Whether the administration simply rolls back standards to those in place prior to the Obama administration or goes even further is unknown. Either way, our environment will surely suffer.

The post Pruitt’s EPA Will Give Automakers What They Want: Fewer Emissions Rules appeared first on Futurism.