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In the Future, Social Media Will Pay You For Your Data

Posted: 23 Apr 2018 03:54 PM PDT

As Facebook adds users around the globe, a number back home in the U.S. are quitting. For users tired of the sketchy policies and abuse of trust, the Cambridge Analytica scandal seems to have been the last straw. But now the question: what will take its place?

Some users are turning to a platform that flips Facebook’s business model on its head  that is, they’re making money from social media, instead of helping the companies make money off them (and the data they generate).

The largest one in this new guard of platforms is called Minds. Though it actually launched in 2015, Minds’ popularity seems to be rising as more people search for viable alternatives to Facebook’s data-guzzling digital Eye of Sauron.

“Even before Cambridge Analytica, we learned that Facebook saw their first ever drop of millions of active users, which is a major wake up call,” Minds founder Bill Ottman tells Futurism in an email. “Many signals indicate users are fed up and rapidly migrating to open source, encrypted and decentralized social platforms.” Minds has about 1 million total users, and 110,000 of them are active each month, Wired reports.

On the surface, Minds seems pretty similar to Facebook and other familiar social networks. There’s a feed, which gets populated with posts; other users can comment, upvote, and form groups. But the code that makes it run is totally different. Minds runs on a decentralized network that thrives on users’ “contributions” — upvotes, comments or sharing  rather than selling off their data to shady third parties. They’re documented in a Bitcoin-esque public ledger; transactions are transparent, like any real-world cryptocurrency. You know who interacted with whom, and who was the original creator of the content.

Minds has created an “autonomous peer-to-peer payment system.” Interactions with your content earn you a score; your daily total corresponds to a number of tokens that end up in your wallet. That ensures content creators are rewarded for their efforts, similar to how YouTubers are paid through monetization of their videos.

So if I liked the page of my favorite band on Minds, that band’s account would receive a token reward at the end of that day.

Right now, those tokens don't actually mean anything, they're Brownie points. But in the future, Minds may convert some of these to a new cryptocurrency, which could someday be worth real-world money.

Despite some good buzz and an uptick of users, it’s not super likely that Minds is going to become the next Facebook. It’s still pretty niche, and simply lacks the appeal, simplicity, and “hip-factor” of other popular, social media networks already embedded in our lives. When I signed up for it, the only thing I could see was a strange post about the history of the Roman emperor Nero and a bunch of anime avatars. It reminds me a lot of the early days of Google Plus, and we know how that took off.

But the core principle behind the network is powerful. A decentralized social network that directly thrives from users interaction, and supporting each other, sounds a million times better, than “multi-billion dollar company gives your data to malicious third-party entities for profit.”

It’s also extremely ambitious and idealistic. Its survival depends on the sustained efforts from its users  without a growing community, the system could easily collapse in on itself. And without widespread adoption of cryptocurrencies, it will be pretty much impossible to convince content creators that they have value.

Minds may have a ways to go before it can compete with Facebook, but its momentum is growing. “It’s critical to show support by signing up and even just experimenting. Voting with clicks, like voting with dollars,” writes Ottman.

And if it’s not Minds that makes a real, successful go of the business model in which users are paid for their data, then maybe another company will.

Editor’s note (4/24/18 10:00 AM ET): A previous version of this story misstated how creators earn tokens on Minds. We have updated the story, and we apologize for the error. 

The post In the Future, Social Media Will Pay You For Your Data appeared first on Futurism.

California’s Future Is Dry, Wet, and Scary

Posted: 23 Apr 2018 02:08 PM PDT

Twister. San Andreas. The Perfect Storm.

Hollywood loves a good natural disaster story. But it’s not quite so appealing when they happen in the real world.

Real-life natural disasters are neither entertaining nor profitable, but Tinseltown (and the rest of California) could be in for decades of them, according to a new study published Monday in Nature Climate Change.

The team created predictions based on data from the Community Earth System Model Large Ensemble (CESM-LENS) between 1920 and 2100. These publicly available simulations reveal what the Earth's climate looked like in the past (based on real-world data) and use that to predict what it will look like in the future.

Based on this analysis, the researchers concluded that California will experience a 25- to 100-percent increase in what they call “climate whiplash” — transitions from extremely wet to extremely dry weather — by the end of this century.

This whiplash will do far more than leave residents always wondering if they should bring an umbrella.

According to the researchers, most of California’s wet weather will arrive between December and March. Such an intense influx of precipitation will test California’s water infrastructure. If reservoirs can’t support it, flooding could occur all across the state, all at once.

Such an event could be disastrous, lead author Daniel Swain said in a press release. One major flood like that could cost upwards of a trillion dollars. “I don’t think most people in California really have a grasp of the magnitude of this kind of event,” said Swain. “Millions of people living in the Central Valley would, at a minimum, have to leave for a while, and many could actually have their homes under 20 or 30 feet of water.”

Are We Making Forest Fires Stronger?
Click to View Full Infographic

But floods are just one of the potential problems in California’s whiplashed future. Wildfires are another.

Traditionally, the rainy season in California begins in October or November. If it doesn’t start until December, that leaves a lot of dry vegetation to fuel possible fires in the fall.

Combine that dry vegetation with the strong Santa Ana winds — which reach peak intensity in Southern California around November and December — and you have a recipe for fiery disaster. We’ve already seen harbingers of this potential future, with intense wildfire seasons over the past few years.

According to the researchers, human-caused global warming deserves most of the blame for this predicted increase in climate whiplash, but as Swain told Reuters, this future “can be partially, but not completely, avoided” if the world takes tougher action on climate change.

California already has some of the most forward-thinking environmental policies in the country, embracing renewable energy and vowing to decrease greenhouse emissions.

For now, all the state can do is remain firm in its commitment to addressing global warming, and hopefully, the rest of the world will follow suit. After all, disaster movie scenarios will become more frequent in many other places worldwide if we continue on our current path.

The post California’s Future Is Dry, Wet, and Scary appeared first on Futurism.

There May Soon Be A New Vaccine To Combat Addiction To Bath Salts

Posted: 23 Apr 2018 01:21 PM PDT

Hey, here’s a thought: Why don’t we create a vaccine for drug addiction?

It’s a devilishly elegant solution for something as stigmatized as drug abuse and, even worse, relapse. Train the immune system to attack molecules of the drug if it ends up in the body, and the person won’t get high. Bam. Simple.

The concept has come up before, for drugs like opioids and alcohol. And now, researchers have started making one for bath salts, according to a new study. But there's a reason that there are no true drug vaccines on the market; the challenge here isn’t making a vaccine that works — it’s getting it to the people who need it.

Bath salts are a type of designer drug that generally contain a compound called a cathinone, an addictive stimulant similar to amphetamines. They look like bath salts, but that’s about where the similarities end (as the National Institute of Drug Abuse perhaps over-explains, “Synthetic cathinone products marketed as ‘bath salts’ should not be confused with products such as Epsom salts that people use during bathing. These bathing products have no mind-altering ingredients.”); the drug is cheap and extremely powerful, often sought by people who usually use cocaine or meth but want a stronger high. Bath salts can cause dizziness, confusion, and psychosis, which is what happened in the now-infamous case in which someone on the drug tried to eat another person’s face off.

In the study, presented at the annual Experimental Biology conference in San Diego on Sunday, the researchers tested a vaccine to combat two types of bath salts — MDPV and alpha-PVP — in mice. The researchers found that the vaccine boosted the mice’s immune response so that the mice got much less high off the drug, and felt the effects for less time. And the immune response worked for months after vaccination.

This could be promising for people who are going through rehabilitation or trying to stay off the drug — if the drug doesn't do anything for you anymore, it’s (at least theoretically) easier to kick the habit for good.

But there are significant hurdles to figuring out if this vaccine will do what it’s supposed to. The researchers behind the bath salt vaccine got past one of the biggest scientific elements that usually thwart these kinds of treatments: getting the immune system to respond to the right molecule. But we don’t yet know if the vaccine for bath salts addiction will work in humans. Lots of drugs and other treatments, including a similar vaccine for opioids, work great in animals don't end up being useful for humans. Medications that get overhyped for success in animals fail to deliver in human clinical trials again and again, and these treatments never find their way to the people they were supposed to be able to help.

In addition, addiction is a complex disorder that has more than just a physical element. And a vaccine wouldn’t treat all aspects of it, such as craving and any psychological factors that might have driven someone to use in the first place. “I think that the vaccines aren't going to take away craving issues," Kim Janda, a chemist at The Scripps Research Institute, told drugabuse.com. "They're just going to enforce the inability to receive any benefits from taking the drug." Janda supposes a drug vaccine would be useful to prevent relapse after a person is treated for addiction, but not for getting someone to quit in the first place.

So, the new bath salts addiction vaccine has made important first steps on the long, treacherous road towards becoming an FDA-approved treatment. But it remains to be seen whether this new vaccine will be any different from other that have stumbled along the way.

"The vaccines seem very promising, and they're novel, providing a different mechanism to prevent substance abuse," Kelly E. Dunn, a researcher focused on opioid use disorders at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, told Chemical and Engineering News. "But there is still a lot of work to do."

The post There May Soon Be A New Vaccine To Combat Addiction To Bath Salts appeared first on Futurism.

Amazon Is Ramping up Its (Still Rather) Secretive Home Robot Project

Posted: 23 Apr 2018 12:04 PM PDT

By this time next year, you could have your very own robot to do stuff around your home, courtesy of Amazon.

Lab126, the company’s hardware research and development division, is quietly working on a domestic robot, according to a Bloomberg report. And it could be ready to roll (or, maybe, walk? who knows) into customers’ homes as soon as 2019.

Robot Companions: A New Breed of Social Machines [INFOGRAPHIC]
Click to View Full Infographic

Like any secret project worth its salt, this one has a codename — “Vesta” — and details are scant.

What we do know is that the project began several years ago, and that Amazon recently ramped up hiring for it. The company’s jobs page features openings for several robot-related positions for Lab126, such as “Senior Applied Robotics Scientist” and “Sr. Software Engineer, Robotics,” all posted since the beginning of the year.

As for what the bot will actually do, even sources familiar with Amazon’s plans aren’t 100 percent sure. They tell Bloomberg one possibility is for it to serve as a mobile Echo of sorts. The device could follow owners around the home like a dedicated pet, waiting for its master to throw it a bone in the form of a verbal command.

The same sources tell Bloomberg that prototypes of Amazon’s home robot make use of advanced cameras and computer vision software. That’s essentially the same technology that helps an autonomous car navigate roads could help Vesta traverse the home.

But we still have lots of questions. How could it handle homes with multiple floors? Will it have arms, or wheels? Will it fold my laundry for me? Would it still kind of be monitoring us at all times, like the extremely popular Echo is, now in more rooms of our houses?

Amazon isn’t ready to provide any answers. A spokesperson told Bloomberg the company does not comment on “rumors and speculation.”

Based on what we do know so far, it sounds like Amazon is essentially combining the mobility of a Roomba with the AI smarts of an Echo. That may not be the home robot of our sci-fi dreams (it doesn’t sound like it’s going to be the real-life version of the Jetsons’ chore-tackling robot Rosie), but it could be a start.

The post Amazon Is Ramping up Its (Still Rather) Secretive Home Robot Project appeared first on Futurism.

Europe Is Illegally Shipping Its Used Electronics to Nigeria

Posted: 23 Apr 2018 11:39 AM PDT

We are always looking for that next upgrade for our devices, whether it’s because we love shiny new things, or because planned obsolescence means our current devices stop working more quickly than before.

The result: a gigantic pile of junk. And it’s a massive, global problem.

Used smartphones, computers, and tablets — e-waste, for short — are nearly impossible to recycle, and increasingly difficult to disassemble into their components.

In Europe (that’s all of Europe, plus Russia), where consumers throw away about 12.3 million tons of electronics per year, nations first threw these devices into landfills, until they realized the heavy metals were polluting the air, soil, and water, sickening people living nearby. Then they tried recycling them  indeed, sometimes the components are extremely valuable  in some instances, far cheaper than mining. But taking them apart still proved too difficult, and labor intensive.

Now, they’re making the unwanted, discarded devices someone else’s problem: EU countries are shipping tens of thousands of tons of used electrical and electronic equipment every year to Nigeria’s busy ports, according to a new study from United Nations University, funded by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development.

In fact, the study found 60,000 tons of e-waste in total were making it to Nigeria every year. 77 percent of that is from EU countries; the rest is mostly from the U.S. and China.

European exporters are doing this in a sneaky way. They are sending containers full of used cars (an actual desirable import for Nigeria) in which every spare space is taken up by discarded electronics, according to the study (there are other routes of import, but this is how about 70 percent of the e-waste ends up in Nigeria, the study found).

So, effectively, the exporters are smuggling the gadgets out. That’s a problem for several reasons:

  • Importing and exporting e-waste into Nigeria is illegal according to the United Nations Basel Convention since 2002.
  • Many of the imported goods (TVs, fluorescent lamps, and other displays with backlights) contain hazardous materials such as mercury, cadmium, and lead. If set on fire, as much e-waste is in an effort to rapidly recycle its valuable parts, they could pose a significant health risk to Nigerian importers, and handlers.
  • According to the study, around 19 percent of the used electronics were nonfunctional. If you believed Europe that they were “exporting” these gadgets, this statistic shows that’s clearly a ruse, since that e-waste can’t be reused, but only taken apart and recycled.

The issue is a convergence of two trends. More people around the world are consuming more electronics, more quickly (Americans now spend about $1 trillion a year on consumer electronics, and similarly, Europeans are some of the biggest spenders after the U.S.). And we are not finding enough ways to recycle and recover the materials used. In fact, consumer products are less repairable and have shorter functional lives than in the past.

These trends are powerful, and it’s not surprising then that European countries are resorting to desperate measures to tackle this growing pile of e-waste. International conventions are no longer able to stop the exploitative spillover from wealthy, developed nations to poorer, less developed ones, and nations aren’t always addressing the issue — in 2017, only 66 percent of the global population lived in countries with active e-waste policies.

But that doesn’t mean that policies won’t work.

Developed nations can do more. American lawmakers have introduced legislation to grant citizens the “right to repair,” requiring  companies to provide instructions and methods for customers to actually repair their devices instead of just buying new ones. Another technique might be to raise manufacturing costs to reflect more of a company’s environmental footprint.

International and domestic policies, if properly enforced, could protect citizens worldwide from situations like the one growing in Nigeria. Let’s just hope they kick in fast enough.

The post Europe Is Illegally Shipping Its Used Electronics to Nigeria appeared first on Futurism.

Soldiers Are Training in Virtual Environments Generated From Real Cities

Posted: 23 Apr 2018 10:04 AM PDT

The U.S. Army can now train soldiers to fight in specific, challenging settings with the touch of a button.

That’s thanks to virtual reality. Satellite imagery, street view data, and other readily-available information about the globe rapidly generate these Synthetic Training Environments, according to a military white paper. Artificial intelligence renders the digital worlds based on the available data, analyzes soldier performance to make the trainings more effective, and introduces variability into the simulations to keep soldiers on their toes.

The Army isn’t new to virtual reality — it’s been using the technology since 2012 — but the new Synthetic Training Environment means the people in charge of training soldiers can create lifelike representations of real places much more rapidly than ever before. Should soldiers need to be deployed, they will already know how to move through the environment as if they had already been there, know what they need to know to win that battle.

The goal is to make combat simulations as close to the real thing as possible. "Units train as they will fight, on the terrain [they] will fight on," according to the white paper. More realistic environments also help troops better plan for the logistics of warfare, such as travel time and dealing with environmental conditions.

The Army has already built a virtual version of North Korea, South Korea, San Francisco, New York, and Las Vegas, according to military engineers who spoke to New Scientist. Thanks to this new system, the Army can simply select a region from a map and the virtual environments will automatically generate within a few days.

We don’t actually know why the Army has developed virtual versions of these cities. While it’s admittedly creepy that soldiers could be preparing for a battle in the streets of New York, it’s just as likely that data for American cities is easier to come across and the engineers wanted to make a more realistic setting.

In the past, virtual reality training would take place in environments best described as "Afghanistan-like mountains" or other generic places. With the Synthetic Training Environment, soldiers can encounter all sorts of terrain as it exists in the real world, and also face a broader and more dynamic range of training scenarios.

By training in insanely life-like simulations, soldiers could be more ready than ever for combat, no matter whether it’s in the streets of North Korea or the Vegas strip.

The post Soldiers Are Training in Virtual Environments Generated From Real Cities appeared first on Futurism.