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"More than a third of all honeybee colonies in England died over the winter, according to figures from the British Beekeepers Association..."
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Abbas El-Zein: Engineers are behind government spying tools and military weapons. We should be conscious of how our designs are used
"One aspect of Edward Snowden's revelations in the Guardian about the NSA's surveillance activities has received less attention than it should. The algorithms that extract highly specific information from an otherwise impenetrable amount of data have been conceived and built by flesh and blood, engineers with highly sophisticated technical knowledge. Did they know the use to which their algorithms would be put? If not, should they have been mindful of the potential for misuse? Either way, should they be held partly responsible or were they just "doing their job"?
Our ethics have become mostly technical: how to design properly, how to not cut corners, how to serve our clients well. We work hard to prevent failure of the systems we build, but only in relation to what these systems are meant to do, rather than the way they might actually be utilised, or whether they should have been built at all. We are not amoral, far from it; it's just that we have steered ourselves into a place where our morality has a smaller scope."
When SpaceX put a communications satellite into orbit yesterday, it wasn't a just triumph of technology. It was a victory for cost control.
"The success of this first launch for a private client—the company had already contracted with NASA to deliver supplies to the International Space Station via its rocket and reusable robotic space capsule, called Dragon—clears the way for SpaceX to fulfill its $4 billion book of business. If future launches confirm Falcon 9′s reliability, SpaceX will “own the satellite launch industry,” as space journalist Michael Belfiore puts it. That will give it the cash flow to pursue its more technically challenging plans, such as a trip to Mars."
Meritocracy and entrepreneurialism reinforce a closed system of privilege.
"In a cultural context where idealists have linked social media to democracy, egalitarianism, and participation, the tech scene in Silicon Valley considers itself to be exceptional. Supporters speak glowingly of a singularly meritocratic environment where innovative entrepreneurs disrupt fusty old industries and facilitate sweeping social change.
But if the tech scene is really a meritocracy, why are so many of its key players, from Mark Zuckerberg to Steve Jobs, white men? If entrepreneurs are born, not made, why are there so many programs attempting to create entrepreneurs? If tech is truly game-changing, why are old-fashioned capitalism and the commodification of personal information never truly questioned?"
Google Glass has been available to early adopters for nearly nine months, and some merchants are doing their best to keep it out of their establishments. Nick Starr, a network engineer in Seattle,...
A camera mounted on your head. A camera in your phone. How is that any different, you ask? Well, imagine walking around with your phone always pointing at people, perhaps shooting and recording everything. What would the reactions be?
The viola organista combines keyboard and cello in a unique string sound dreamed up by the Renaissance genius. Read this article by Tim Hornyak on CNET.
"Evgeny Morozov and Jaron Lanier are themselves lapsed true believers in the Internet gospel, though Morozov tells us he was only “one of those people . . . very briefly,” whereas Silicon Valley insider Lanier was a seminal figure in developing some of the technologies and ideologies he now criticizes. Both assert that the widespread and quasi-messianic enthusiasm for the Internet underwrites a technocratic agenda inimical to the survival of democracy. The celebrated cause of “Internet freedom,” they tell us, is about the freedom of data, not people, and strengthens the hand of a small elite positioned to profit from that data. They also reject the idea that the Internet follows an autonomous, self-directing logic, asserting instead that we must decide the future of network technology and our relation to it through reasoned collective deliberation. Both authors, then, set out to secularize contemporary discussions of technology and dispel the dubious theologies and teleologies peddled by evangelists of the cyber-creed."
A new species of bacteria has been discovered living in the clean rooms used by Nasa to build their spacecraft
"The berry-shaped bacteria, called Tersicoccus phoenicis, is so unusual that it has been classified not just as a new species but also a new genus.
Scientists said they have now found the bacteria in two separate clean rooms – one in Florida where Nasa’s Mars Phoenix Lander was constructed and at the European Space Agency’s facility in Kourou, French Guiana."
Is our relentless quest for economic growth killing the planet? Climate scientists have seen the data – and they are coming to some incendiary conclusions.
«“Is Earth F**ked?” (full title: “Is Earth F**ked? Dynamical Futility of Global Environmental Management and Possibilities for Sustainability via Direct Action Activism”).
Standing at the front of the conference room, the geophysicist from the University of California, San Diego walked the crowd through the advanced computer model he was using to answer that question. He talked about system boundaries, perturbations, dissipation, attractors, bifurcations and a whole bunch of other stuff largely incomprehensible to those of us uninitiated in complex systems theory. But the bottom line was clear enough: global capitalism has made the depletion of resources so rapid, convenient and barrier-free that “earth-human systems” are becoming dangerously unstable in response. When pressed by a journalist for a clear answer on the “are we f**ked” question, Werner set the jargon aside and replied, “More or less.”
There was one dynamic in the model, however, that offered some hope. Werner termed it “resistance” – movements of “people or groups of people” who “adopt a certain set of dynamics that does not fit within the capitalist culture”. According to the abstract for his presentation, this includes “environmental direct action, resistance taken from outside the dominant culture, as in protests, blockades and sabotage by indigenous peoples, workers, anarchists and other activist groups”.
He isn’t saying that his research drove him to take action to stop a particular policy; he is saying that his research shows that our entire economic paradigm is a threat to ecological stability. And indeed that challenging this economic paradigm – through mass-movement counter-pressure – is humanity’s best shot at avoiding catastrophe.
Earth is not prepared for the threat of hazardous rocks from space, say astronauts who helped formulate the U.N. measures
"The U.N. plans to set up an “International Asteroid Warning Group” for member nations to share information about potentially hazardous space rocks. If astronomers detect an asteroid that poses a threat to Earth, the U.N.’s Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space will help coordinate a mission to launch a spacecraftto slam into the object and deflect it from its collision course. "
A call goes out for a new global effort to puzzle out humanity's ecological history over the last 50,000 years or more
"The putative start date for what scientists have begun to call the Anthropocene—a newly defined epoch in which humanity is the dominant force on the planet—ranges widely. Some argue that humans began changing the global environment about 50,000 years back, in the Pleistocene epoch, helping along if not outright causing the mass extinctions of megafauna, from mammoths to giant kangaroos, on most continents. Others date it to the emergence of agriculture some 7,000 years ago. The most definitive cases to be made coincide with the start of the industrial revolution and the dawn of the atomic age. The beginnings of burning fossil fuels to power machines in the 19th century initiated a change in the mix of atmospheric gases , and the first nuclear weapon test on July 16, 1945, spread unique isotopes across the globe.
There is little doubt from the archaeological record that humans have been altering ecosystems on a local scale for at least 50,000 years if not longer, but the extent of that alteration remains unknown. Recent work by ecologist Erle Ellis of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, and others suggests that for at least 3,000 yearshunting, farming and burning have shaped most landscapes on the planet, based on computer models."
Survey finds that 62% of 16 to 24-year-olds prefer traditional books over their digital equivalents
The digital economy does not need to overreach.
"Sixteen to 24-year-olds are known as the super-connected generation, obsessed with snapping selfies or downloading the latest mobile apps, so it comes as a surprise to learn that 62% prefer print books to ebooks.
Asked about preferences for physical products versus digital content, printed books jump out as the media most desired in material form, ahead of movies (48%), newspapers and magazines (47%), CDs (32%), and video games (31%)."
Web creator Sir Tim Berners-Lee has warned that the democratic nature of the net is threatened by a "growing tide of surveillance and censorship".
“I SEE a train wreck looming,” warned Daniel Kahneman, an eminent psychologist, in an open letter last year. The premonition concerned research on a phenomenon...
"The idea that the same experiments always get the same results, no matter who performs them, is one of the cornerstones of science’s claim to objective truth. If a systematic campaign of replication does not lead to the same results, then either the original research is flawed (as the replicators claim) or the replications are (as many of the original researchers on priming contend). Either way, something is awry."
"Compared to existing multilateral agreements, the TPP IPR chapter proposes the granting of more patents, the creation of intellectual property rights on data, the extension of the terms of protection for patents and copyrights, expansions of right holder privileges, and increases in the penalties for infringement. The TPP text shrinks the space for exceptions in all types of intellectual property rights. Negotiated in secret, the proposed text is bad for access to knowledge, bad for access to medicine, and profoundly bad for innovation.
The text reveals that the most anti-consumer and anti-freedom country in the negotiations is the United States, taking the most extreme and hard-line positions on most issues. But the text also reveals that several other countries in the negotiation are willing to compromise the public’s rights, in a quest for a new trade deal with the United States."
The ever-faster rise of carbon emissions worldwide slackened in 2012 – and that might signal a lasting trend
The EU continues its decade-long fall in emissions. Its GDP might have dropped by 0.3 per cent in 2012, but emissions fell even further – by 1.6 per cent. The most significant change may be in China. After rising by about 10 per cent a year for a decade, its emissions are now almost twice those of the US. But in 2012, they grew by only 3 per cent, while its economy grew by almost 8 per cent. China still gets two-thirds of its electricity from coal, but it is shifting to natural gas, hydroelectricity, and nuclear (see "China: the big turnaround").
- by Mathey Power
"Since its inception, the drone program has been largely hidden, its operational details gathered piecemeal from heavily redacted classified reports or stage-managed media tours by military public-affairs flacks. Bryant is one of very few people with firsthand experience as an operator who has been willing to talk openly, to describe his experience from the inside. While Bryant considers leakers like Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden heroes willing to sacrifice themselves for their principles, he’s cautious about discussing some of the details to which his top-secret clearance gave him access. Still, he is a curtain drawn back on the program that has killed thousands on our behalf.
Bryant’s defense—a virtual battle over an actual war—left him seething at his keyboard. He says that when flying missions, he sometimes felt himself merging with the technology, imagining himself as a robot, a zombie, a drone itself. Such abstractions don’t possess conscience or consciousness; drones don’t care what they mean, but Bryant most certainly does. Now he plans to study to be an EMT, maybe get work on an ambulance, finally be able to save people like he always wanted. He no longer has infrared dreams, no longer closes his eyes and sees those strange polarized shadows flit across them."
Distributed citizen groups and nimble hackers once had the edge. Now governments and corporations are catching up. Who will dominate in the decades ahead?
We’re in the middle of an epic battle for power in cyberspace. On one side are the traditional, organized, institutional powers such as governments and large multinational corporations. On the other are the distributed and nimble: grassroots movements, dissident groups, hackers, and criminals. Initially, the Internet empowered the second side. It gave them a place to coordinate and communicate efficiently, and made them seem unbeatable. But now, the more traditional institutional powers are winning, and winning big. How these two side fare in the long term, and the fate of the rest of us who don’t fall into either group, is an open question—and one vitally important to the future of the Internet.
In the Internet’s early days, there was a lot of talk about its “natural laws”—how it would upend traditional power blocks, empower the masses, and spread freedom throughout the world. The international nature of the Internet circumvented national laws. Anonymity was easy. Censorship was impossible. Police were clueless about cybercrime. And bigger changes seemed inevitable. Digital cash would undermine national sovereignty. Citizen journalism would topple traditional media, corporate PR, and political parties. Easy digital copying would destroy the traditional movie and music industries. Web marketing would allow even the smallest companies to compete against corporate giants. It really would be a new world order.
This was a utopian vision, but some of it did come to pass. Internet marketing has transformed commerce. The entertainment industries have been transformed by things like MySpace and YouTube, and are now more open to outsiders. Mass media has changed dramatically, and some of the most influential people in the media have come from the blogging world. There are new ways to organize politically and run elections. Crowdfunding has made tens of thousands of projects possible to finance, and crowdsourcing made more types of projects possible. Facebook and Twitter really did help topple governments.