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In Uber’s Vision of the Future, Every Form of Transport Is Fair Game

Posted: 11 Apr 2018 03:39 PM PDT

Uber wants to get you where you’re going, even if you don’t want to use any fossil fuels to get there. Following the news that the ride-hailing company had acquired electric bike-share startup Jump, Uber announced that its app will soon feature multiple new transport options, including bike-sharing, options for mass transit, and peer-to-peer car rentals alongside their long-promised autonomous ride-hailing.

“More and more, Uber is not just going to be just about taking a car, but is about moving from point A to point B in the best way,” Uber chief executive Dara Khosrowshahi said at an event at the Uber driver center in Washington, D.C., according to a press release.

Khosrowshahi said that the Uber app would soon give Uber users access to the 12,000 dockless, GPS-enabled bikes they just gained from Jump, which are already present in 50 cities across six countries.

Diversifying like this is an obvious business move for Uber; as consumers become more conscious of the carbon impact of their transportation options, they’re choosing low-emission methods like biking or mass transport. And since some “cities of the future” plan to exclude cars from cities, partially or entirely, it also helps the company maintain its presence in metropolitan areas well into the future.

Of course, Uber’s eagerness to expand may be hindered in part by pesky regulations already governing the places it wants to expand to. Several cities have placed limits on the number of dockless bikes that can operate within them; without the structure of docks like those seen on New York’s CitiBike, dockless bikes can pile up and clog sidewalks.

Uber has also said that, thanks to a partnership with e-ticketing service Masabi, public transit riders would be able to use the Uber app instead of a ticket or pass, starting in Boston, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, New York, San Francisco and Europe.

However, mass transit systems aren’t exactly, er, speedy at introducing technological change. Just look at how long it took for New York’s Metro Transit Authority to allow mobile ticketing options for commuter trains (which rail-riders will tell you is buggy and unreliable) and test the same for subway riders (which works in only…two locations).

And then there’s the aftermath of an incident in which an Uber autonomous vehicle killed a pedestrian in Arizona. The state has banned Uber’s self-driving vehicles, though we’ve yet to see where the fallout from this incident will settle.

Overall, Uber seems confident that now’s the time to integrate all the world’s transportation into a single service. After all, as Wired points out, the service was among the first to get people to trust in the “sharing economy.” Maybe they’ll also get you to overlook the company’s previous errors and make Uber the verb for travel of all sorts.

The post In Uber’s Vision of the Future, Every Form of Transport Is Fair Game appeared first on Futurism.

Mark Zuckerberg’s Congressional Testimony: Day 2

Posted: 11 Apr 2018 03:21 PM PDT

If you watched Mark Zuckerberg’s testimony to Congress both today and yesterday, you might have felt like you’re were stuck in some incredibly awkward (and somehow paler) version of Groundhog Day.

Lots of the same questions from lawmakers.

Lots of the same answers from Zuckerberg.

While yesterday’s hearing involved a pair of Senate committees, today’s testimony was for the benefit of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce. Each of the committee’s members had four minutes to take a swing at the piñata that is Facebook’s CEO, and a majority used their time to ask questions focused on the same topics the Senate covered yesterday. A brief recap:

Consumer Privacy: What happened with Cambridge Analytica? What data does Facebook collect? Who has access to that data?

Facebook’s Content: Who reviews content? Is Facebook biased? How is Facebook addressing hate speech?

Tech Regulations: Do you think penalties would help address problems? What do you think of Europe’s legislation? Will you support my legislation?

Most of Zuckerberg’s answers to the above echoed those he gave either to the Senate committees yesterday or in other statements. In general, though, the phrases that came out of his mouth the most were probably:

Facebook does not sell data.

Artificial intelligence tools.

I’ll have to look into that and get back to you.

So, lots of the same. But some things were different. Let’s get into that.

“You are hurting people.”

Several House committee members — including Rep. David McKinley (R-WV), Rep. Gus Bilirakis (R-FL), Rep. Kevin Cramer (ND), and Rep. Buddy Carter (R-GA)  think Facebook isn’t doing enough to help the country address the opioid crisis, a topic that came up only in passing yesterday.

The lawmakers noted that drugs are often bought and sold through illegal pharmacies on Facebook, and pushed Zuckerberg to commit to stopping those pharmacies from posting ads. “With all due respect, Facebook is actually enabling an illegal activity and, in so doing, you are hurting people,” said McKinley.

Bilirakis asked for a “definitive” answer as to when Facebook planned to remove the ads (as soon as possible after users flag them, according to Zuckerberg).

Cramer was even more direct in his questioning, asking how quickly Facebook would remove the ads if leaving them up resulted in a $1 million fine, possibly hinting at future regulations.

We saw a few visual references yesterday, including a hefty printout of Facebook’s user agreement, but House members seem to really like their props.

McKinley had images of ads selling opioids, while Rep. Marian Walters (D-CA) prepared screenshots of Facebook’s app and photo privacy settings so she could ask Zuckerberg to explain the difference between them.

A man held up a giant photo of conservative bloggers Diamond and Silk while Rep. Billy Long (R-MO) asked Zuckerberg, “What is unsafe about two black woman supporting President Donald J. Trump?”

Later, Rep. Jeff Duncan (R-SC) brandished a pocket-sized copy of the U.S. Constitution during his questioning, noting that he had a copy he wanted to give Zuckerberg after the hearing.

“You’re the CEO, right?”

There’s a lot Zuckerberg doesn’t know (or says he doesn’t know) that House lawmakers think he should. And they weren’t afraid to call him on it.

“You are collecting personal information on people who do not even have Facebook accounts. Isn’t that right?” asked Rep. Kathy Castor (D-FL). After Zuckerberg gave his response – “I’m not sure. I don’t think that that’s what we’re tracking.” – she gave her own: “No, you’re collecting.”

Rep. Diana DeGette (D-CO) asked Zuckerberg some version of “You’re the CEO, right?” three times when he denied knowing the answer to her questions about Facebook’s goings on, seemingly implying that he should know.

Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-MI), meanwhile, was equally unimpressed with his knowledge base, rattling off a list of six “key facts” Zuckerberg said he didn’t know during the course of the hearings.

For now, Zuckerberg will get to go home, robotically drink some robot juice water, and take a well-deserved rest. The scrutiny is guaranteed to continue in the morning.

The post Mark Zuckerberg's Congressional Testimony: Day 2 appeared first on Futurism.

Here Are the Best Reactions to Mark Zuckerberg’s Stint in Front of Congress

Posted: 11 Apr 2018 03:02 PM PDT


For the past two days, the world has watched Mark Zuckerberg’s evident discomfort as he tolerated a 10-hour marathon of questions from members in both houses of congress. The spectacle had it all — was light grilling, plenty of apologizing and vows to do better, and more than a few explanations of how Facebook actually works.

And the internet was loving it. Well, specifically, Twitter, cuz Facebook doesn’t exactly lend itself to this kind of live reaction (sorry Zuck). Here are some of the best reactions we spotted.

Zuckerberg blinked awkwardly at the camera. And the internet tweeted.

Someone give that man a little blush. Seriously though, Remind you of anyone?

What is that deer-in-the-headlights look on his face though?

Seriously, never cut your own hair. Especially the day before prom.

Despite the five-head, everyone was excited to see the robot masquerading as Mark Zuckerberg  him.

It took a while for him to speak. Instead, his human suit analyzed a water bottle and tried to pour it into a glass and slurp it like a regular old CEO. As you can imagine, it was quite difficult.

I mean, the man is very probably a robot.

Okay, after all these digs though, he wasn’t looking BAD. Maybe a little taller than usual even.

He finally speaks! I feel like this should somehow be a drinking game. Take a shot every time Zuck says "content" or a lawmaker mispronounces Cambridge Analytica.

Or, maybe something that just doesn’t make any factual sense.

But is Facebook too powerful, Mark? That’s the real question here.

Does this feel like trying to explain the internet to your parents to anyone else?

At the end of the day, at least someone was happy.

Day Two: Congress didn’t magically obtain knowledge of the internet.

But hey! Biden is here!

Still, all eyes were on Zuck.

The big news of the day? Zuckerberg’s own data was also sold to third parties.

But, don’t worry, that’s shouldn’t put too much of a wrench in his plans.

The post Here Are the Best Reactions to Mark Zuckerberg’s Stint in Front of Congress appeared first on Futurism.

Trying to Quit Drinking? This Implant Will Snitch If You Fall off the Wagon

Posted: 11 Apr 2018 02:40 PM PDT

Christmas parties. Dates. Football games. Cookouts.

Wherever humans socialize, you can bet that the booze will follow. Its omnipresence, plus its addictive qualities, can make it really hard for people to stop drinking, even if they really want to.

Now, researchers are working on a new alcohol-monitoring implant that could help people stay on the wagon. All they’ll have to give up is some of their autonomy.

Researchers at the University of California San Diego (UCSD) developed the implant, a biosensor about one cubic millimeter in size. It’s easy to implant under a person’s skin, no surgery required.

When a person drinks, an enzyme coating the sensor produces a chemical byproduct  that sends a wireless electrical signal to a wearable, such as a smartwatch, which remotely powers the sensor.

The researchers have already tested their alcohol-monitoring implant in the lab, using a mix of ethanol and “diluted human serum” (not quite clear what that is) beneath pig skin. Next, they plan to test it in animal models; if that goes well, human tests will follow. The researchers think they could eventually modify the implant to test for other substances.

"The ultimate goal of this work is to develop a routine, unobtrusive alcohol and drug monitoring device for patients in substance abuse treatment programs," lead researcher Drew Hall said in a press release.

alcohol-monitoring implant
Image Credit: David Baillot/UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering

To make sure patients get the proper treatment and support, professionals monitor addicts’ usage with breathalyzers, blood tests, or temporary tattoos. According to the press release, the UCSD researchers believe their alcohol-monitoring implant is an improvement on those options.

It’s hard to disagree. You drink, and the smartwatch will find out almost right away. It can then relay that information to whoever keeps you accountable — the head of your substance abuse program, perhaps, or an AA sponsor. This could presumably help keep addicts sober, even when they don’t have a breathalyzer or blood test scheduled for the near future.

However, the sensor is also far more intrusive than other monitoring methods. It’s literally inside a person’s body. The researchers say it’s easy to implant in a clinic, but they don’t note how difficult it is to remove.

We should also pause to consider the team’s focus on substance abuse treatment programs. While some people enroll in those voluntarily, others are required to do so when they are sentenced for crimes. Requiring convicted criminals to take a breathalyzer as part of court-ordered treatment is one thing. Requiring them to agree to an implant to avoid jail time is another — a very invasive other that verges on Black Mirror territory.

If this implant can help people break up with alcohol, then great. We just need to make sure we’re willing to make that trade-off.

The post Trying to Quit Drinking? This Implant Will Snitch If You Fall off the Wagon appeared first on Futurism.

Sexy Species Died Off Quicker. That Has Conservationists Worried.

Posted: 11 Apr 2018 01:39 PM PDT

Pretty much any beautiful, unique element of an animal’s physiology only evolved to help that animal get laid. Peacocks and birds-of-paradise sport impressive feather displays, elephant seals have growths so they can roar louder during mating season, and dude-bros endlessly bench press in the hope that someone is watching.

But those unique developments might not be so great for the species as a whole. Researchers discovered that some species of crustaceans that had evolved traits to better attract mates went extinct ten times faster than species with fewer physical differences between males and females. An article about the research was published today in Nature. If more experiments confirm these findings, it could mean that conservationists have to rethink which species they’re working to save.

Evolution is often summed up as "survival of the fittest," but that’s a bit glib. It's really the organisms that are able to reproduce — not necessarily those that are stronger or more successful predators — that get to pass on their genetic code to the next generation. For years, conservationists have debated whether or not animals with greater sexual dimorphism (those physical differences between males and females) were better-equipped to adapt and survive in the wild.

Until now, that debate has been restricted to studies of living organisms, because it can be difficult to tell an animal's sex from fossil records. But the authors of the Nature study were able to find such differences in the fossils of cytheroid ostracods, a group of ancient crustaceans. In some species of these ostracods, the males and females looked very similar, but in other, particularly attractive species, the males had longer and larger shells.

It turns out that bigger isn't always better. The researchers found that the species in which the males looked more different tended to go extinct after just a few thousand years — the blink of an eye, in evolutionary terms — while the other species lasted millions of years.

What gives? The researchers think that the species that survived longer had traits and physical that were were better suited to the challenges of their environment, instead of some comparably useless stuff to attracting a mate. That's what allowed those species to be more successful at reproduction in the long run. Because what good is attracting a mate if you don’t survive long enough to get there?

That’s important because the researchers say that sexual selection is now a “substantial risk factor for extinction.”

It’s risky to change policy or practice on a single study. But if other studies come to similar conclusions, this may suggest that conservationists should readjust their priorities. Because even though an animal with gaudy male-female differences might not be endangered, these new findings suggest that it could still be at risk in the future, especially as many of the planet’s ecosystems change dramatically due to climate change.

And it could come down to us to save them from their sexy, sexy selves.

The post Sexy Species Died Off Quicker. That Has Conservationists Worried. appeared first on Futurism.

The US Government Has No Idea What to Do About Small Satellites

Posted: 11 Apr 2018 12:24 PM PDT

In January, our atmosphere got four tiny, rather unwelcome additions: four small satellites called “SpaceBees,” created by startup Swarm Technologies. Though each tiny craft is a little smaller than a slice of bread (10 by 10 by 2.5 cm), they’ve put quite a bee in the U.S. government’s bonnet.

You see, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) can’t seem to decide if those satellites should be allowed to exist.

As IEEE Spectrum reports, just last December, the FCC denied Swarm Technologies permission to launch the tiny satellites from the U.S.; a letter from the FCC told Swarm that: “These spacecraft are … below the size threshold at which detection by the Space Surveillance Network can be considered routine.” So it seems like Swarm just went around the FCC and launched their little satellites from India.

But it gets more complicated  IEEE also discovered that the FCC hasn’t always held this view. The agency has issued licenses for multiple small satellites in the least five years, even some as tiny as 3.5 by 3.5 by 0.2 cm (smaller than Swarm’s bees), authorizing some launches and denying them seemingly arbitrarily.

Rendering of the SpaceBEE, one of the small satellites the FCC has had trouble regulating; a blue box about the size of a slice of bread.
Rendering of the SpaceBEE; the above image is from the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO)’s launch of the satellite. Image Credit: ISRO, Swarm Technologies via IEEE Spectrum

Apparently peeved by this environment, Swarm instead decided to launch their satellites from another country, even if that meant risking the commission's ire. (Which, indeed, it has: the FCC has put one of Swarm’s licenses on hold as the agency assesses the impact of the unauthorized launch.)

This confusion comes at a time when future of satellite communications appears, increasingly, miniaturized. Small satellites are a heck of a lot cheaper than the Volkswagen Beetle-sized crafts that have traditionally handled communications and monitoring from our atmosphere. Little satellites can also work in a swarm, covering a broader area than a single satellite and providing higher-resolution imaging and data collection. As such, several companies, including Swarm and Elon Musk’s SpaceX, have big ambitions to host space-based internet from small satellites.

But when it comes to making legislation around these little crafts, the FCC is as overwhelmed as Gulliver swarmed with Lilliputians.

The FCC’s worries about small satellites are warranted; hundreds of little satellites loose in the atmosphere could pose a hazard to other satellites, or spacecraft moving through the atmosphere, especially if the companies that launch them lose control.

But you could argue this kind of regulation is overdue, and government rule-making is (yes, again) slow to adapt to trends. (We count ourselves fortunate that they have gotten the hang of email; when Futurism reached out to the FCC with questions, they responded within an hour.) That’s something that will have to change as technology becomes ever-more integrated in our lives.

Fortunately (hopefully) this confused atmosphere could at least change for satellite makers soon. On March 27, the FCC released a draft of a “Notice of Proposed Rulemaking” for small satellites, which would streamline the process of applying and receiving licenses for these little crafts. The draft proposes that small satellites under this licensing scheme would have a maximum mass of 180 kilograms (396 pounds) and a minimum size of 10 square centimeters (about the size of a softball) — as small an object that today’s sensors can track.

However, the document acknowledges that there may be other ways to track smaller objects, like adding reflectors and transponders. Each of these small objects would need a unique marker to ensure sensors could tell it apart from other forms of space debris, the document continued.

That’s going to be vital as more spacecraft, from space tourists to high-speed on-earth transport, enter our atmosphere. Swarm Industries’ decision to launch unauthorized crafts in response to the FCC’s scattered rule-making was more than just cheeky; it’s potentially dangerous to have satellites floating up there, un-tracked by central authorities. The last thing a space traveler needs is to get hit by a space bee, of any kind.

The post The US Government Has No Idea What to Do About Small Satellites appeared first on Futurism.

Hearings Show Congress Doesn’t Understand Facebook Well Enough To Regulate It

Posted: 11 Apr 2018 11:48 AM PDT

Mark Zuckerberg has spent an awful lot of time in the hot seat over the last two days. For those of us who have been paying attention to Facebook and its litany of scandals over the past few months, Zuck’s testimony in front of committees from the Senate and a (distinctly more lucid) one from the House told us nothing new. In fact, certain instances made it seem far more like a tortured five hour call with IT. But why does a picture of my 88-year-old dad show up on my own profile? Have you tried turning it off and turning it on again?

Yes, many of the illustrious senators and representatives assembled devoted their limited minutes with the CEO of one of the biggest companies in the United States to addressing some very simple elements of how Facebook works (which is lucky for Zuckerberg because he had to concentrate most of his energy on modulating his face in the very natural way that humans do).

“Yesterday when we talked, I gave the relatively harmless example that I’m communicating with my friends on Facebook and indicate that I love a certain kind of chocolate. And all of a sudden I start receiving advertisements for chocolate. What if I don’t want to receive those commercial advertisements?”
— Senator Nelson (D-FL)

“There is a core misunderstanding about how that system works, which is that—let's say if you are a shop and you are selling muffins, right, you might want to target people in a specific town who might be interested in baking or some demographic, but we don't send that information to you, we just show the message to the right people and that's a really important, I think, common misunderstanding of how the system works.”
— Mark Zuckerberg

It’s not much of a stretch to say they probably aren’t equipped to decide how Facebook treats it’s user’s privacy. How could legislators hold Zuckerberg accountable if they don’t understand what’s going on?

Congress is responsible for regulating a lot of industries that have a lot of technical nuance. Arguably, many of those products, from medicine to fuel, potentially put more Americans at greater risk than Facebook does.

But clearly, their technical expertise leaves much to be desired, that we can’t take their digital literacy for granted (that’s why they have advisors who, one would hope, know a bit more). Congress wants to get it right, even if they don’t totally understand. Because they may have little comprehension of how Facebook and its competitors (if they can name a few) work, but they have a firm grasp of the effects. Senators and representatives know that Facebook directly affects a huge proportion of their constituents who were shocked — SHOCKED — by the Cambridge Analytica scandal. They may even be aware that their own re-election could be on the line, potentially from foreign interference.

Congress’ ignorance might be at least a bit due to the fact that legislators haven’t yet done much to regulate the tech industry.

These hearings show that our grandpa-congressmen don’t know all that much about the internet. But they also show that age of tech companies doing as they please may be ending.

“I think it's time to ask if Facebook has moved too fast and broken too many things,” Rep. Greg Walden (R-OR) stated at the beginning of this morning’s hearing.

We know what kind of regulation we need. The European Union has set a great example with the upcoming General Data Protection Regulation: every internet user has the right to know when their data changes hands or is subject to a breach, and has the right to be forgotten. Why doesn’t the government start there, and implement similar rules in the U.S.?

If the people that represent us really want to hold Zuckerberg and Facebook accountable, we should be able to call his bluff. That requires being just as well-informed as he is. And if he’s hiding information from us, they’ve gotta know that, too, and legally require him to turn it over.

To get there, many Congressmen and Congresswomen have some studying to do. We need to value digital literacy in the people we elect. That is, if we don’t want to have another Cambridge Analytica on our hands.

The post Hearings Show Congress Doesn’t Understand Facebook Well Enough To Regulate It appeared first on Futurism.