Archive for the ‘Technology’ Category
If you ordered something from Amazon recently, it was probably delivered by a person dressed in black and wearing a reflective vest. Chances are, that person woke up at 5 o’clock in the morning and reported for duty at a distribution warehouse in some unseemly industrial area somewhere in your city, and then set out in a van with some 150 packages. For a long time, that’s pretty much how delivery logistics have worked. But a swam of delivery drones, operating out of a giant drone beehive, could change all that before long.
Out with the old, says Saul Ajuria Fernandez, an architecture student of at the University of Alcalá in Spain. For his master’s degree project, Fernández composed over ten illustrations depicting an urban droneport, the delivery hub of tomorrow. The bulk of its employees? Aerial drones that would zip back and forth between their spherical HQ and various delivery destinations.
The port would be situated among a cluster of highway junctions in a real-world location in the South Node of Madrid. The highway location ensures open air and easy access to multiple areas of the city.
Aerial drones can be seen buzzing to and from the droneport to pick up or deliver another package, as cars pass by on the roads that wind around it. In the images, Fernández superimposed a grid in the sky above the port, likely as a means to display the presence of flight patterns for the robots.
And Fernández took those flight patterns seriously, even going so far as to mark up a map of the city to show potential routes and service radii. He really considered the placement of the droneport, as well as its actual design.
Another drawing, showcasing the height of the structure, also shows people milling about beneath it and what looks to be an observation deck of a sort at the top. It would make for a great, scenic place for employees to take their lunch.
A cross section of the building, taken from the same angle as the previous picture, showcases each individual floor. The droneport comes complete with a loading dock, where trucks can offload large shipments to be sorted for delivery, as well as a number of packaging rooms, where drones would collect packages before being sent out via the circular hatches that dot the outside.
Here’s a close-up look at how the drones would actually get into the building. The hatches make for quick and fluid access. As shown in the upper portion of the picture, and employee could be waiting inside for the drones as they return, ready to hand of the next package(s) and facilitate a lightning fast turnaround.
To top it all off, Fernández gives us a look inside the actual building. There, we can see people who look like repair technicians wearing leg exoskeletons (which are currently in seat mode) working with some engineering equipment. This suggests that any drone repairs or maintenance would be done on-site, further localizing and streamlining the process.
A droneport like this would be a dream come true for any urban center, optimizing the process of delivering packages to consumers in a safe and, dare we say it, gorgeous fashion.
Trump’s Win Has Led to an Encryption Boom
The propsect of Trump in the White House—with the full powers of the NSA at his command—appears to have made some people nervous. Or lots of people, really. To wit, end-to-end encrypted messaging app Signal has seen downloads pop 400 percent since the election, according to a recent Buzzfeed interview with Moxie Marlinspike, the founder of Open Whisper Systems, which created the app.
Signal, the encrypted messaging app that comes with an Edward Snowden endorsement, has seen a 400% increase in daily downloads since Donald Trump won the presidency.
“There has never been a single event that has resulted in this kind of sustained, day-over-day increase,” Moxie Marlinspike, the founder of Open Whisper Systems, the software nonprofit behind Signal, told BuzzFeed News. Marlinspike interpreted the jump as a reaction to Trump’s win, and anxiety over the future of US surveillance.
The secure communications tool is well-known in technologists, journalists, and political activists’ circles. It allows people to text and speak with one another using what’s known as end-to-end encryption, meaning only the sender and their intended recipient can read or hear the message.
“Trump is about to be put in control of the most pervasive, largest, and least accountable surveillance infrastructure in the world,” Marlinspike said. “People are maybe a little bit uncomfortable with him.”
While Signal does not publicize the number of people who use it to communicate, its user base is in the millions, Marlinspike said. The Google Play store lists Signal’s total Android downloads at between 1 and 5 million. The app is also available on iOS and on desktop through Google Chrome.
In an op-ed calling for expanding US surveillance programs, Trump’s pick for CIA director, Kansas Representative Mike Pompeo, suggested that merely using secure encryption tools may call the attention of counterterrorism officials. “[T]he use of strong encryption in personal communications may itself be a red flag,” he wrote in the Wall Street Journal in January. In the same essay, Pompeo defended the government’s ability to search Americans without a warrant, and the surveillance of social media posts.
“I think there’s a lot of fear, given Trump’s alarming statements about surveillance and his penchant for revenge, that he will attempt to use surveillance to crush dissent and stifle journalism,” Trevor Timm, executive director of the Freedom of the Press Foundation, told BuzzFeed News.
Trump’s combative posture against the news media has concerned many journalists, whose work relies on collecting sensitive information and protecting the identities of sources. Timm said conversations journalists have can be used by the government to identify and prosecute whistleblowers, and that reporters’ emails and phone calls have ended up in indictments brought on by the Obama administration. For Timm, encryption has never been more important.
On the campaign trail, Trump sided with the Justice Department in its fierce dispute with Apple over gaining access to an encrypted iPhone, and he called for a boycott of Apple products until the company agreed to circumvent its own security features. At times, Trump has pushed for increased surveillance of Americans, including monitoring mosques. And during a CNN debate, he said, “[W]e should be able to penetrate the internet and find out exactly where ISIS is.” Some in the tech industry see the new administration as a threat to their businesses and to the privacy of their users, since the data they collect about customers could be used against them.
“It is troubling that President-elect Donald Trump has appointed some people that seem to have an over-broad view of governmental powers when it comes to surveillance,” Democratic Rep. Ted Lieu told BuzzFeed News. “And it is my hope that the new administration respects the Fourth Amendment and respects the importance of encryption — both for the government as well as for private individuals.”
Car, meet giant shredder machine. Giant shredder machine, meet car. Oh dammit, you’re going to eat the car. It’s always fun to watch giant shredders tear up and break things but it’s even more fun when they turn something that’s big and really hard to break—like a car—and just go through it like it’s some rag doll toy plaything.
Get this, the German company that makes this thing is most well known for its food blenders!
The best tools for tracking down spirits have always been the ones fallible enough to find something.
The small, Syracuse, New York-based company K-II Enterprises makes a number of handheld electronic devices—including the Dog Dazer (a supposedly safe, humane device that deters aggressive dogs with high-pitched radio signals)—but it is best known for the Safe Range EMF. The size of a television remote, the Safe Range EMF detects electromagnetic fields, or EMF, measuring them with a bright LED array that moves from green to red depending on their strength. Designed to locate potentially harmful EMF radiation from nearby power lines or household appliances, the Safe Range has become popular for another use: detecting ghosts.
Since its appearance in the show Ghost Hunters, where the ghost hunter Grant Wilson claimed that it has been “specially calibrated for paranormal investigators,” the Safe Range (usually referred to as a K-II meter) has become ubiquitous among those looking for spirits. Search for it on Amazon, and many listings will refer to it as a “ghost meter,” an indispensable tool in the ghost hunter’s arsenal. It isn’t alone among EMF meters: Of the best-selling EMF meters on Amazon, two out of the top three are explicitly marketed as ghost meters.
Scanning the various product descriptions and reviews, though, what becomes clear is that the K-II Safe Range is a relatively unreliable electromagnetic field meter. It operates only on one axis (you have to wave it around to get a proper reading), and it’s unshielded, meaning that it can be set off by a cell phone, a two-way radio, or virtually any kind of electronic device that occasionally gives off electromagnetic waves. The reviewer Kenny Biddle found he could set it off with, among other things, a computer mouse and a camera battery pack.
Yet it’s precisely because it’s not particularly good at its primary purpose that makes it a popular device for ghost hunters. Erratic, prone to false positives, easily manipulated, its flashy LED display will light up any darkened room of a haunted hotel or castle. Which is to say, its popularity as a ghost hunting tool stems mainly from its fallibility.
The K-II isn’t the only consumer-electronic item used by ghost hunters. Often it’s sold in kits that contain other devices, such as a Couples Ghost Hunt Kit, with two of everything, so you can build “trust and lasting memories when the two of you, alone in some spooky stakeout, look to each other for confirmation of your findings and reassurance!” There are devices that have been engineered specifically for ghost hunters, like a ghost box, which works by randomly scanning through FM and AM frequencies to pick up spirits’ words in the white noise. But mostly, ghost hunters use pre-existing technology: not just EMF meters, but also run-of-the-mill digital recorders, used to capture electronic voice phenomena, or EVP. An investigator records her or himself asking questions in an empty room, with the hope that upon playback ghostly voices will appear.
All of this technology—both the custom and the repurposed—works along more or less the same principle: generating a lot of static and random effects, hoping to capture random noise and other ephemera. The ghost hunter, in turn, looks for patterns, momentary convergences, serendipity, meaningful coincidence. For the believer, this is where ghosts live: in static, in glitches and in blurs.
Electronic voice phenomena have continued to rank among the most prominent “evidence” offered of paranormal activity, it seems, precisely because humans are hardwired to dredge meaning out of chaos. Evolutionarily, we have long needed to discern the sight or sound of a predator despite its camouflage, which has led us to look for patterns where they might not be immediately evident. The quirks and shortcomings of technology plays directly into this biological need: throwing out random static and noise that is primed to be transmuted into meaningful signals. Ghost hunters work through confirmation bias. Looking for proof of the paranormal, they will find it in anything, but most readily in static, gibberish, and errata—technological noise in which we’re hardwired to find false positives.
The only thing that’s changed recently is the proliferation of consumer electronics associated with ghost hunting. In an age of iPhones and Fitbits, ghost hunters are just one more niche market, lapping up the latest and greatest gadgets for sale. But there’s one crucial difference: most purveyors of consumer electronics keep their consumers happy by constantly refining them until they’re free of bugs. Ghost tech works the other way, by actively engineering glitches—the more, the better.
Such seekers can easily be written off as kooks and outliers, but there’s something paradigmatic in their use of faulty devices. The rise of the internet and other new technologies promised a new Information Age, one in which data, truth, and knowledge were the new currency, where the future would be built on information itself. Twenty years on, there’s an endless labyrinth of conspiracy theories, fake memes, trumped up stats, and fabricated evidence. The world’s knowledge is just a Google search away, but it comes to us inextricably intertwined with the world’s bullshit.
The 21st-century media consumer is always working to sift through the noise in search of a signal. Whether it’s a cousin’s anti-vax Facebook post, the endless Farmville requests that have to be filtered out of a feed, or the colossal avalanche of half-truths and lies dumped during this election, most people’s primary challenge online these days is blocking out the endless assault of static, trying to torture it into some kind of meaning.
When televisions were still a luxury, high-tech item, designers wanted to make them look as crazily futuristic and beautiful as possible. Here are some of the most bizarre and breathtaking television sets that ever existed.
Kuba Komet (1957-1962, Wolfenbuttel, West Germany)
The sailboat-like ultra-heavy (it was 289 lb. or 130 kg) home entertainment system of its time had a 23″ black and white television, eight speakers, a Telefunken phonographs and a multi-band radio receiver. The Komet cost more than a year’s average wage.
Marconiphone Television 702 with a 12-inch screen from 1937, by the British Marconi
A Baird Lyric with a 12-inch screen, 1946
Tele-Tone TV-209 (1949)
A Teleavia Panoramic III, designed by Philippe Charbonneaux, 1957
The 21-inch Philco Tandem Predicta with a 25 ft. cord between the screen and the cabinet, 1958
Philco Safari, the first transistor portable television, 1959
The 15 pound (6.8 kg) set had a 2 inch display and worked with a 7.5V rechargeable battery.
Panasonic/National Flying Saucer (but also known as The Eyeball, originally TR-005 Orbitel), produced by Panasonic in the late 1960s and early 1970s
It had a five-inch screen, earphone jack, and could rotate 180 degrees on its chrome tripod.
The Keracolor Sphere, designed by Arthur Bracegirdle, 1968-1977
This English set, an icon of the Space Age, was really expensive because of its small size. It was available in various colors.
The JVC Videosphere, introduced in 1970, and produced to the early 1980s
Inspired by Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, and appeared in the Conquest of The Planet of the Apes (1972) and in The Matrix (1999).
Sinclair Microvision TV (Model MTV-1), 1977
The first ever miniature television with its 2 inch screen wasn’t a real sales success: it was really expensive, priced like the average models.
Seiko T 001 TV Watch, 1982
Casio TV-70, the portable TV from the early 1980s with “Solar Projection System”, 1986
Behind the cool name it was just a mirror that reflects the picture from the LCD screen. The only 13 mm thin TV worked with 3 AAA-size batteries and had a 2-inch black and white screen.
Not exactly sure what the make and name of this wild TV is. Almost looks like a stove is built into it. But what an enjoyable way to cook dinner, watching Spock and Bones McCoy sparring.
In the early hours of Friday morning, police officers in Texas took what is thought to have been unprecedented action for US law enforcement. Using a bomb disposal robot, they killed the suspect in last week’s shooting in Dallas after negotiations with the individual broke down. “We saw no other option but to use our bomb robot and place a device on its extension for it to detonate where the suspect was,” Dallas police chief David Brown told reporters. “Other options would have exposed our officers to great danger. The suspect is deceased as a result of detonating the bomb.”
Many experts believe this is the first time that a bomb disposal robot has been used in this way on US soil. Such robots are controlled remotely, and used for tasks such as surveillance and investigating suspect bombs. Some are equipped with two way intercoms and even cameras to allow for police to negotiate with suspects without risk. When deployed for bomb disposal, they often use small explosives in order to trigger the larger bomb.
The police Remotec Model F-5, a bomb disposal remote control vehicle, was rigged with C-4 explosive, killing Johnson and ending the standoff.
But while their intended function is not to injure enemy combatants (or criminals), this isn’t the first time they’ve been put to this use. Peter W. Singer, an expert in military technology and think tank strategist, tweeted that US troops in Iraq had used their own bomb disposal robots in this way.
Singer describes this practice — which used a cheap bomb disposal robot called the MARCbot — in an essay in the book The Changing Character of War:
“The MARCbot is not just notable for its small size; it was the first ground robot to draw blood in Iraq. One unit of US soldiers jury-rigged their MARCbots to carry Claymore anti-personnel mines. If they thought an insurgent was hiding in an alley, they would send a MARCbot down first, and if they found someone waiting in ambush, take him out with the Claymore. Of course, each insurgent killed in this fashion meant $5,000 worth of blown-up robot parts, but so far the army has not billed the soldiers.”
MARCbot extends its camera to search for suspected improvised explosive devices
Bomb disposal robots, though, have emerged as a flexible tool for law enforcement, particularly SWAT teams. In April, members of the California Highway Patrol used a bomb disposal robot to deliver a pizza to a suspect, effectively ending a standoff. And in 2013, a SWAT team in Albuquerque used their bot to remove the blanket from a suicidal individual barricaded in his room, checking whether or not he was armed. (No weapon was found and a SWAT team took him into custody.)
Earlier this season, Anna Maria Tremonti looked at whether technology can come to the rescue and save us from technology, because there is a new generation of technology pioneers working to put us back in control of our own time and attention. Anna Maria’s first guest was Fred Stutzman, the CEO of Freedom, an app designed to keep its users off the internet. Here’s the conversation.
ANNA MARIA TREMONTI: So, people essentially will pay you to block them from their own technology which they’re also paying for?
FRED STUTZMAN: [laughs] That’s right. It sounds silly but it is the truth. People will pay to block themselves off of the things that distract them so that they can focus and get their work done. It’s something that they value.
AMT: What do they do? They block themselves off for a pre-determined length of time?
FRED STUTZMAN: That’s right, yes. We make products that work across desktop, tablets, phones, that allow them to voluntarily say this is the time that I want to be offline or away from the apps that distract me and you know, you can do it either by setting a period of time or a schedule so you can do it every morning, something like that.
FRED STUTZMAN: Exactly. It’s reducing the interruptions but also reducing the temptation to be pulled in those directions.
AMT: Who uses the Freedom app?
FRED STUTZMAN: It’s mostly people who understand the value of their time, so it’s professionals, it’s writers, it’s creative, it’s people who need to focus to get their work done. A lot of remote workers, people who work from home, people who may not have the environmental reinforcements to keep them on task, they’re the big users of Freedom.
AMT: What, in your own experience, led you to develop the idea of an app that blocks certain technologies?
FRED STUTZMAN: I was studying social media, Spending a lot of time on social media and needed to get my dissertation done, so I ended up using Freedom pretty extensively and really saw that the quality of my work improved. When you don’t have all these things competing for your attention, it’s just a very different way of working and one that I think we’ve almost forgotten. When you’re able to enter that mode of single focus of mono-tasking, it’s just this very powerful state for people.
AMT: How serious are people’s problems with attention, or focus, or managing their time then if it’s necessary?
FRED STUTZMAN: When you go to work on your computer or you pick up your tablet to get some things done, I kind of liken it to trying to get work done on your television. So there are all these technologies that are co-located inside the device that are designed to distract you. I mean that’s the reason Facebook, Twitter, they are great services, but they want your attention so they’re competing for your attention and it’s up to us, basically pure self-regulation, to find a way and strategies to deal with that. I think it’s a huge problem. I think it’s one that is if we resort to pure willpower, it’s quite challenging and so there’s a real interesting area for where technology can come in and solve that problem, so that’s where we are.
AMT: When it comes to the way we live with our devices it is not solely wearable inventions such as Google glass that can make us seem like cyborgs. The smartphone has become such a ubiquitous accessory that my next guest says we are all essentially proto-cyborgs today. But again, he does say there’s reason to be optimistic. The Google glass, as you might say, is half full. As long as we can assure that our devices are actually working for us and not the other way around. Peter Reiner is a professor at the National Core for Neuroethics at the University of British Columbia and he joins us from Vancouver, hello.
PETER REINER: Good morning.
AMT: In what sense are we already cyborgs?
PETER REINER: Well, the notion of a cyborg is really just a marriage of biology and technology and we have so intimately integrated our smartphones and, actually the entire universe of devices on which we interact on a day to day basis, that they have become part of what we call our extended mind. If you were at dinner yesterday evening with a group of friends and people started talking about some movies and let’s say the movie Amelie came up and people were talking about how wonderful it was, and then somebody says well, what was the name of that actress and nobody at the table is a movie buff and so nobody remembers, how likely do you think it is that the very next words out of somebody’s mouth would be, well I’ll just Google that? And what’s so remarkable about that little story is how unremarkable it is; that it has become a seamless part of the way that we navigate the world today; that we rely on these information appliances that are always at our fingertips to extend our minds in ways that really never happened before.
AMT: So if you look at the ways we use digital technology today, are we actually headed toward improving our lives or is it the opposite?
PETER REINER: Well, we’re doing both at the same time and it’s hard to know on balance which direction it’s going. We do have certainly some metrics. Recently there was a paper that came out from the Federal Reserve, of all places, which looks at the economy and what they noticed was that the productivity of workers was rising for quite a number of years and with the introduction of computers, it continued to rise until social media showed up on the scene, and it has been flat. Since social media became so popular, they attribute it directly to the use of social media by people and its effect on their working environment and its effect on their attention span. We need a real solution because it’s affecting us in important ways.