Volume 21, Number 3 - 2/1/18 Twitter  Facebook  JLP Blog  


FUTURE FACTS - FROM THINK LINKS

DID YOU KNOW THAT--
  • More than a billion people around the world currently lack an officially recognized form of identity (such as a birth certificate).
  • Ford has filed a patent for an autonomous police car.
  • Between 2002 and 2014, American farms lost nearly 150,000 laborers, or 20% of the workforce.
  • Test of Einstein's theory confirms the Sun is losing mass.


PUNCTUATIONS
by John L. Petersen

MANY, MANY THANKS

I want to sincerely thank all of you who contributed to our holiday funding appeal. You were very generous and I want each of you to know how much all of us who work to publish FUTUREdition appreciate your help. It would be impossible to publish FE without some help from kind readers and friends like yourselves.

We’ve been publishing FUTUREdition for 21 years now, trying to stay in front of the most extraordinary change in the history of humanity . . . and the tempo is only increasing. This year promises surprises and breakthoughs, the kind of which have never confronted us in the past. These dramatic changes will be surprises – with all of the shortcomings associated with trying to deal with unanticipated events – unless we all have some early alert of what is headed our way.

That is why we publish FUTUREdition – to flag the incoming shapers of the future while there is still time to do something about it.

Thank you very much for standing with us.


JOHN PETERSEN TRANSITION TALK

I gave a pretty comprehensive picture of my view of the emerging world in December at our TransitionTalk series. For those of you who weren’t able to make it to the talk, you’ll find links to the two segments below.






ROBERT DAVID STEELE COMING TO TRANSITIONTALKS

Robert Steele is one of the most insightful and biggest thinkers that I know. Early in his career he was a spy for the CIA and then left to ultimately become the foremost proponent for open source (non-classified), intelligence on the planet.

The notion that the vast majority of what this government needs to know is available through sources that are easily accessible on the web, flies in the face of the extraordinary fixation that our government has about making and keeping secrets.

Robert is s true systems thinker and one of the principals driving the vanguard of the emergent new world. In addition to playing a very active role through his many online interviews, his books and his extraordinary website (that is full of information) are marvelous resources.

There are very few analysts and reporters who think in terms of “grand strategies”, big, overarching perspectives that link together all of the major contributing factors into a picture of what a new world could look like – and how to get there.

Robert is one of those thinkers. He’s fearless, outspoken, articulate and very provocative. If you come to Robert’s talk on March 17th, I promise you that you will go away seeing the world in a very different way. Your eyes will be opened to very important things that you didn’t know.

So, do come to hear Robert David Steele. You can find complete information at www.transitiontalks.org. It will be a great afternoon.

Here’s a little conversation that I had with Robert about what he’s going to talk about next month.






THINK LINKS



INSTITUTIONAL CHANGE

ID 2020 Alliance – (ID 2020 website – November, 2017)
The ID2020 Alliance is a global partnership working to address the lack of recognized identity by more than a billion people around the world, in accordance with Target 16.9 of the Sustainable Development Goals. A unique convergence of trends provides an unprecedented opportunity to make a coordinated, concerted push towards the goal of universal digital identity. In September 2015, all United Nations member states adopted the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals: 17 interrelated goals and 169 associated targets to promote social, economic and environmentally sustainable development. In Target 16.9, all countries made a global commitment to “provide legal identity for all, including birth registration” by 2030. This global commitment sets an ambitious timeline and there is an urgent need to harmonize existing approaches, bring in diverse voices, and accelerate action. The rapid proliferation of smart devices globally, combined with ever-increasing computing power and rapidly expanding broadband coverage, enables new methods of registration and facilitates ongoing interaction between individuals and their identity data. New technologies, including blockchain, when used in conjunction with long-proven technologies, such as biometrics, now make it possible for all people to have access to a safe, verifiable, and persistent form of technology.

This Is What Work Will Look Like by 2030 – (World Economic Forum – January 10, 2018)
Will technology kill jobs and exacerbate inequality, or usher in a utopia of more meaningful work and healthier societies? While it is impossible to know what tomorrow holds, research by global professional services company PwC (formerly Price Waterhouse Coopers) explores four possible futures – or “worlds” – driven by the “mega trends” of technological breakthroughs, rapid urbanization, ageing populations, shifting global economic power, resource scarcity and climate change. All of the four possible futures in PwC’s report share the common theme of increasing use of technology to assist, augment and replace human work. Some foresee the dominance of global corporations, others predict the growth of smaller, more individual endeavors. All, however, depend on digital technology to link talent pools and customers, and create financially beneficial relationships, whether these are between individuals and corporations, or groups of people. Any of these futures – or a combination of them – are possible, but how we reach 2030, and who will benefit, varies greatly.

Space Mining Is Going to Seriously Disrupt Earth's Economy. And We're Nowhere Near Ready for the Shock – (Wired – January 20, 2018)
Private companies and national space agencies from all over the world have been working for years to develop technologies that could allow us to extract minerals from space, and ship them back to Earth where they can be sold. Now zip into the future for a second. In January 2035, a US company becomes the first to successfully mine minerals from space and transport the cargo back to Earth. The haul contains huge quantities of gold and platinum, although it is only a fraction of the resources from the asteroid. The price of gold falls by 50%. In the spring of 2014, a team of 20 students took part in a role-playing game, in which they were placed in the above scenario. Pretending to be at the Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (COPUOS) conference, dedicated to space mining, the students acted out how they believed each nation would respond to this completely new idea of global wealth. “The realization of space exploitation will disrupt world politics,” explains Deganit Paikowsky, lead author of the paper. International law is unclear on the issue of space mining. “While prohibiting claiming territory in outer space, it left unsolved what that meant with regard to the right to commercially exploit resources there,” says Frans von der Dunk, professor of space law at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. The chances of every country in the world agreeing on an international space policy are slim, according to von der Dunk. The US and Luxembourg are the only countries to have gone ahead and developed their own national space law.



NEW DISCOVERIES

Water Did Not Form on Earth But Was Brought by Asteroids When the Planet Was 2 Million Years Old – (IBT – January 21, 2018)
Water, one of the prerequisites for life, arrived on Earth two million years after its formation. According to researchers, water was brought to the planet by angrites in the early years of the Solar System. Angrites are a rare group of water-rich basaltic meteorites. A new study published in the journal Geochimica and Cosmochimica Acta by MIT researchers has found that the composition of water on Earth and the composition of water in the angrites "match perfectly". This indicates that water on the asteroid and the water on Earth came from the same source. The researchers believe that water arrived on Earth even before it was fully formed, when it was likely to have been only 20% of its current size. Adam Sarafian, from the department of Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary science at MIT, and lead author of the study, says: "It's a fairly simple assumption to say that Earth's water at least started accreting to Earth extremely early, before the planet was even fully formed. This means that when the planet cooled enough so that liquid water could be stable at the surface, there was already water here." Earth was fully formed about 4.5 billion years ago and by this time, the researchers say Mars already had a 20-million-year head start, with a stable mass, and water and other chemicals on its surface, like carbon, fluorine and chlorine.

1.7-Billion-Year-Old Chunk of North America Found Sticking to Australia – (Live Science – January 22, 2018)
Researchers from Curtin University in Australia examined rocks from the Georgetown region of northern Queensland. The rocks — sandstone sedimentary rocks that formed in a shallow sea — had signatures that were unknown in Australia but strongly resembled rocks that can be seen in present-day Canada. The researchers, who described their findings in the journal Geology, concluded that the Georgetown area broke away from North America 1.7 billion years ago. Then, 100 million years later, this landmass collided with what is now northern Australia, at the Mount Isa region. "This was a critical part of global continental reorganization when almost all continents on Earth assembled to form the supercontinent called Nuna," Adam Nordsvan, Curtin University doctoral student and lead author of the study, said. Nordsvan added that Nuna then broke apart some 300 million years later, with the Georgetown area stuck to Australia as the North American landmass drifted away. The continents as we know them today have shifted places throughout Earth's 4-billion-year history. Most recently, these landmasses came together to form the supercontinent known as Pangaea about 300 million years ago. Geologists are still trying to reconstruct how even earlier supercontinents assembled and broke apart before Pangaea. Scientists first proposed the existence of Nuna, Earth's first supercontinent, in 2002. Nuna is sometimes called Columbia.





GENETICS/HEALTH TECHNOLOGY/BIOTECHNOLOGY

New Method to Stop Cells Dividing Could Help Fight Cancer – (PhysOrg – January 18, 2018)
Researchers at Uppsala University, Karolinska Institutet, and the University of Oxford, have used a new strategy to shut down specific enzymes to stop cells from dividing. Turning off enzymes that are important for the survival of growing cells is a promising strategy to fight cancer. But to be able to shut down only one specific enzyme out of thousands in the body, drugs have to be tailored to exactly fit their target. This is particularly difficult for membrane proteins, since they only function when incorporated into the cell lipid envelope, and often cannot be studied in isolation. In a new study published in Cell Chemical Biology researchers used a new strategy to find out how anticancer drugs bind to the membrane protein dehydroorotate dehydrogenase (DHODH), a new cancer target. Researchers used computer simulations together with native mass spectrometry, a technique where a protein is gently removed from its normal environment and accelerated into a vacuum chamber. By measuring the time it takes for the protein to fly through the chamber, it is possible to determine its exact weight. The researchers used this highly accurate 'molecular scale' to see how lipids (the building blocks of the cell membrane) and drugs bind to DHODH. The team found that DHODH binds a particular kind of lipid present in the cell's power plant, the mitochondrial respiratory chain complex. "The study helps to explain why some drugs bind differently to isolated proteins and proteins that are inside cells. By studying the native structures and mechanisms for cancer targets, it may become possible to exploit their most distinct features to design new, more selective therapeutics," says Sir David Lane, Karolinska Institutet.

Blood Test for Multiple Types of Cancer Shows Promise in Early Tests – (UPI – January 18, 2018)
In an early step toward "one-stop" screening for cancer, researchers report they've developed a blood test that can detect eight types of the disease. The blood test is dubbed CancerSEEK. It was able to catch cancer cases anywhere from 33% to 98% of the time, depending on the type. The accuracy range was better – 69% to 98% -- when it came to five cancers that currently have no widely used screening test, the scientists reported in a new study. Those cancers included ovarian, pancreatic, stomach, liver and esophageal cancers. "This is a proof-of-concept," said Dr. Anne Marie Lennon, one of the researchers on the work. "Will this eventually impact patients' care? I think it will. This is a first step, but it's an important one." In recent years, researchers have been studying "liquid biopsies" -- tests that look for cancer markers in the blood or other body fluids. Those markers can include, for instance, mutated genes or abnormal proteins shed from tumors. So far, liquid biopsies have mostly been tested in patients with advanced cancer. Early stage cancers shed fewer markers. CancerSEEK is different because it combines tests that look for 16 genes and 10 proteins linked to cancer, explained Lennon, of Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center in Baltimore. This test also tries to tackle a limitation of other liquid biopsies: namely, that they can suggest cancer is present, but can't show where. The CancerSEEK test uses a computer algorithm to try to pinpoint the organ, or at least narrow it to a couple of possibilities. But much work remains. "This is not ready for routine clinical use," Lennon said.

Woman Receives Bionic Hand with Sense of Touch – (BBC News – January 3, 2018)
Scientists in Rome have unveiled the first bionic hand with a sense of touch that can be worn outside a laboratory. The recipient, Almerina Mascarello, who lost her left hand in an accident nearly a quarter of a century ago, said "it's almost like it's back again". In 2014 the same international team produced the world's first feeling bionic hand. But the sensory and computer equipment it was linked to was too large to leave the laboratory. Now the technology is small enough to fit in a rucksack, making it portable. The prosthetic hand has sensors that detect information about whether an object is soft or hard. These messages are linked to a computer in a rucksack that converts these signals into a language the brain will understand. The information is relayed to Almerina's brain via tiny electrodes implanted in nerves in the upper arm. In tests Almerina - who was blindfolded - was able to tell whether the object she was picking up was hard or soft. She said: "The feeling is spontaneous as if it were your real hand; you're finally able to do things that before were difficult, like getting dressed, putting on shoes - all mundane but important things - you feel complete."




ENVIRONMENTAL ISSUES/CLIMATE

11 Billion Pieces of Plastic Are Riddling Corals with Disease – (Atlantic – January 25, 2018)
Coral reefs are meant to be riots of color, but those that Joleah Lamb studied in the Indo-Pacific were colorful for all the wrong reasons. Their branches and crevices were frequently festooned with plastic junk. “We came across chairs, chip wrappers, Q-tips, garbage bags, water bottles, old nappies,” she says. Whenever Lamb or her colleagues from Cornell University found a piece of plastic, they would lift it up to study the health of the coral underneath. Over four years, the team analyzed more than 124,000 corals, spanning 159 reefs in four countries: Myanmar, Thailand, Indonesia, and Australia. They found that under normal circumstances, just 4% of corals are afflicted by some kind of disease. But infections strike down 89% of corals that come into contact with plastic. Plastic-induced ailments disproportionately affect the corals that provide important habitats for fish—the ones that create intricate branches and layers. That same architectural complexity becomes easily filled and entwined with plastic, so these corals are eight times more likely to be diseased than simpler ones with rounded shapes.

Chinese Ban on Plastic Waste Imports Could See UK Pollution Rise – (Guardian – December 7, 2017)
A ban on imports of millions of tonnes of plastic waste by the Chinese government from January could see an end to collection of some plastic in the UK and increase the risk of environmental pollution, according to key figures in the industry. Recycling companies say the imminent restrictions by China – the world’s biggest market for household waste – will pose big challenges to the UK’s efforts to recycle more plastic. Analysis of customs data by Greenpeace reveals British companies have shipped more than 2.7m tons of plastic waste to China and Hong Kong since 2012 – two-thirds of the UK’s total waste plastic exports. Pressure is growing on Thérèse Coffey, the environment minister, to take urgent action to support and build the UK recycling industry to meet the challenges created by the China ban. Stuart Foster from Recoup, said there were indications in 2008 and 2012 that the Chinese market might be restricted in future but no action was taken in the UK. But this summer the Chinese announced they intended to stop the importation of 24 kinds of solid waste by the end of this year, including polyethylene terephthalate (Pet) drinks bottles, other plastic bottles and containers, and all mixed paper, in a campaign against yang laji or “foreign garbage”. Ray Georgeson, head of the Resource Association, an advocacy body for the recycling industry, said the lower-grade materials would have nowhere to go. “Can you imagine the press coverage if local authority recycling rates drop by 5 or 10% because the plastics have no market to go to?” he said.

These Bold Ideas Aim to Make Plastic Waste a Thing of the Past – (Fast Company – January 26, 2018)
When the Ellen MacArthur Foundation launched its New Plastics Economy initiative two years ago, it made a dark, headline-grabbing prediction. It said if nothing is done to arrest the rate at which plastic is entering the oceans, those oceans will contain more plastic than fish by 2050. About 8 million tons of plastic become maritime garbage every year, according to scientifically grounded estimates. Only about 14% of the plastic used for wrapping food and bottling water is currently recycled and reused, and the numbers are going up all the time. As countries like China and Vietnam take on western-type lifestyles, they produce more plastic waste–but often without the infrastructure to capture and reconstitute it. This year, the Foundation has helped spur a fair amount of plastics innovation activity through a contest funded by Wendy Schmidt, wife of former Alphabet chairman Eric Schmidt. From an innovation standpoint, the hardest nut to crack is the 30% of plastics that can’t currently be reused: the sachets, tear-offs, lids, and bags made up of complex or multilayer materials (like chip bags that contain both plastic and metal). That is what the contest aimed to tackle. The remainder of the article describes the projects of the contest winners.



COMMUNICATIONS/COMPUTING

Finding Your Voice – (Intercept – January 19, 2018)
A classified NSA memo from January 2006 describes NSA analysts using a “technology that identifies people by the sound of their voices” to successfully match old audio files of Ronald Pelton (an NSA employee eventually convicted of espionage) to one another. “Had such technologies been available twenty years ago,” the memo stated, “early detection and apprehension could have been possible, reducing the considerable damage Pelton did to national security.” These and other classified documents provided by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden reveal that the NSA has developed technology not just to record and transcribe private conversations but to automatically identify the speakers. Americans most regularly encounter this technology, known as speaker recognition, or speaker identification, when they wake up Amazon’s Alexa or call their bank. But a decade before voice commands like “Hello Siri” and “OK Google” became common household phrases, the NSA was using speaker recognition to monitor terrorists, politicians, drug lords, spies, and even agency employees. The technology works by analyzing the physical and behavioral features that make each person’s voice distinctive, such as the pitch, shape of the mouth, and length of the larynx. An algorithm then creates a dynamic computer model of the individual’s vocal characteristics. This is what’s popularly referred to as a “voiceprint.” The entire process — capturing a few spoken words, turning those words into a voiceprint, and comparing that representation to other “voiceprints” already stored in the database — can happen almost instantaneously. Although the NSA is known to rely on finger and face prints to identify targets, voiceprints, according to a 2008 agency document, are “where NSA reigns supreme.” Experts point to the relatively stable nature of the human voice, which is far more difficult to change or disguise than a name, address, password, phone number, or PIN. This makes it “far easier” to track people, according to Jamie Williams, an attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation. “As soon as you can identify someone’s voice,” she said, “you can immediately find them whenever they’re having a conversation, assuming you are recording or listening to it.” Unlike DNA, a voiceprint can be collected passively and from a great distance, without a subject’s knowledge or consent. According to Tractica, a market research firm, revenue from the voice biometrics industry is poised to reach nearly $5 billion a year by 2024, with applications expanding to border checkpoints, health care, credit card payments, and wearable devices. (Editor’s note: If you have time for only one article in this newsletter, read this one. It’s quite long and well worth the time it takes to read it.)

Google Has an Actual Secret Speech Police – (Forbidden Knowledge – January 21, 2018)
YouTube public policy director, Juniper Downs addressed a Senate Committee Hearing on “Combating the Spread of Extremist Propaganda” last week, where we learned that more than 100 non-government organizations (NGOs) and government agencies are working with Google in their “Trusted Flagger” program to police YouTube for content ranging from so-called hate speech to terrorist-recruiting videos. The overwhelming majority of Google’s “Trusted Flaggers” don’t want to be publicly associated with the program and they have confidentiality agreements in force to prevent their participation from being revealed to the public. Of these 113 program members, 50 joined in 2017 as YouTube stepped up its content policing, with plans to have 10,000 Google reviewers and engineers around the world working take down content that violates their policies by the end of 2018. YouTube’s machine learning technologies also received a major cash injection in 2017 and are now taking down “nearly five times as many videos in violation of our policies than they were previously. Last June, only 40% of the videos we removed…were identified by our algorithms. Today, that number is 98%,” according to Downs’ statement. Since 2016, YouTube has had a hash-sharing database with Facebook, Twitter and Microsoft, in which they compared the “digital fingerprints” of terrorist content to stop its spread across platforms. But it’s clearly not all about stopping terrorism. Tens of thousands of people, if not more have been put out of business as online publishers and creators for expressing political views and for supporting candidates that are not those of their tech overlords.



SHELTER/ARCHITECTURE

Heatworks Shrinks the Standard Dishwasher to Fit Inside Micro Homes – (Dezeen – January 26, 2018)
Heatworks has created a countertop, app-controlled dishwasher for small homes, which can also be used to sanitize baby products, wash plastic storage containers without melting, cook seafood, and even clean fruit and vegetables. Made in collaboration with design firm Frog, the compact Tetra dishwasher doesn't require plumbing to work – meaning it can be used anywhere that has a standard electrical outlet. To use the dishwasher, users simply load it with water and a small amount of detergent. Then, Heatworks' patented Ohmic Array Technology employs graphite electrodes and electronic controls to agitate the natural minerals found in water – causing it to heat up. The temperature can be controlled and monitored through an accompanying app, which also allows users to start washing cycles remotely. Although small, it can hold up to two full place settings – including plates, bowls, cups, and cutlery – or, alternatively, it can hold up to 12 pint glasses. The wash cycle lasts just 10 minutes and requires around half a gallon per load.



ENERGY DEVELOPMENTS

Nuclear Reactors the Size of Wastebaskets Could Power Our Martian Settlements – (Popular Science – January 18, 2018)
The cylinder of uranium is the size of a coffee can. Even with its shielding and detectors, the device is still no larger than a wastepaper basket. But this little prototype, soon to be tested in the Nevada desert, fuels a dream of an off-world future for humanity. The Kilopower project, a joint venture between NASA and the Department of Energy, has a prototype in testing. The Kilopower reactor is designed to operate at two sizes, a one kilowatt (1,000 watt) model and a 10 kilowatt model. “Your toaster uses about a kilowatt,” Pat McClure, Kilopower project lead at Los Alamos, says with a laugh.“In your average household, you use about 5 KW on average a day, at any given time. NASA’s New Horizons mission has a maximum power of 240 watts, and the power source on the Curiosity rover only provides 120 watts of electricity. Both of these are so-called nuclear batteries, converting heat from naturally decaying plutonium directly into electricity. But plutonium is in short supply, and 1,000 or even 10,000 watts is a big step up from what those power sources could pack, even if it’s small compared to our power needs here on Earth. Unlike those nuclear batteries, Kilopower's system creates a fission reaction, splitting uranium atoms to release energy that is then converted into electricity by attached engines. “The one kilowatt is for deep space missions, a mission to another planet like Pluto or one of the moons of Jupiter. The 10 KW version is either for deep space or the surface of Mars. Right now NASA’s current planning would call for sending five 10 kilowatt reactors to Mars,” McClure says. That’s enough to provide the estimated 40 kilowatts of electricity needed to power a Martian base, plus one extra for good measure. “Mars is a very difficult environment for power systems,” Steve Jurczyk, associate administrator of NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate, said at a press conference. “It gets less sunlight than Earth or the moon, it has very cold nighttime temperatures, and it has very interesting dust storms that can last weeks and months that engulf the entire planet.”

Scientists Showcase How to Create Low-cost Solar Cells Using Nanotechnology – (Economic Times EnergyWorld – January 21, 2018)
A team of scientists at Stanford University has shown how nanotechnology can be used to create crystalline silicon (c-Si) thin-film solar cells that are more efficient at capturing solar energy. The discovery can reduce the cost of solar energy production globally, they noted. Dr Shrestha Basu Mallick, working with her advisors Dr Mark Brongersma and Dr Peter Peumans, developed a new method of producing a cheaper and more efficient solar cell. The team used optical modeling and electrical simulations to show that a thin-film crystalline silicon solar cell with a 2D nanostructure generated three times as much photo current as an unstructured cell of the same thickness. This is because the nano-structured surface traps incoming light more effectively causing it to spend more time within the silicon material. The longer the light spends inside the solar cell - the greater its chance of getting absorbed.



TRANSPORTATION

Ford Files a Patent for an Autonomous Police Car – (TechCrunch – January 26, 2018)
Ford has filed for a patent on an autonomous police car. While patent filings don’t always come to fruition, the mere fact that this idea is in development is mildly unnerving. The patent describes an autonomous police vehicle that would be able to detect infractions performed by another vehicle, either on its own or in conjunction with surveillance cameras and/or road-side sensors. The AI-powered police car could then remotely issue citations or pursue the vehicle. Or (and this is where it gets really creepy), “the method may further involve the processor remotely executing one or more actions with respect to the first vehicle,” according to the patent. In other words, the autonomous police car could wirelessly connect to the original car to communicate with the passenger, verify identity, and issue a citation. In fact, Ford’s patent filing describes a machine learning algorithm that would be able to determine whether or not a vehicle breaking the law warrants a warning as opposed to a citation, and relay that decision to the driver.

Maritime Industry Shifting to More Efficient Electric Propulsion – (Digital Journal – January 12, 2018)
Globally, all modes of transportation are gradually being converted to electrical propulsion, and that now includes the maritime industry. One company, Netherlands-based Port-Liner, is building two giant all-electric barges dubbed the "Tesla ships." According to Port-Liner, the battery-powered barges are capable of carrying 280 containers. The first six of the new barges are expected to remove 23,000 trucks from the Netherland's road annually, replacing them with zero-emissions transport. The €100m project is supported by a €7m subsidy from the European Union. But the Port-Liner project is even bigger than it might seem because it is expected to have a great impact on local transport between the ports of Amsterdam, Antwerp, and Rotterdam. Chief executive of Port-Liner Ton van Meegen said, “There are some 7,300 inland vessels across Europe and more than 5,000 of those are owned by entrepreneurs in Belgium and the Netherlands. We can build upwards of 500 a year, but at that rate, it would take some 50 years to get the industry operating on green energy.” However Port-Liner has also developed a battery pack technology that houses the batteries inside a container. Meegen explained this would allow them to retrofit the batteries into existing vessels. The containers are charged onshore by carbon-free energy provider Eneco, which sources solar power, windmills, and renewables,” Meegan said.

Why Tesla's Autopilot Can't See a Stopped Firetruck – (Wired – January 25, 2018)
Recently a Tesla Model S slammed into the back of a stopped firetruck on the 405 freeway in Los Angeles County. The driver apparently told the fire department the car was in Autopilot mode at the time. The crash highlighted the shortcomings of the increasingly common semi-autonomous systems that let cars drive themselves in limited conditions. This surprisingly non-deadly debacle also raises a technical question: How is it possible that one of the most advanced driving systems on the planet doesn't see a parked fire truck, dead ahead? Volvo's semi-autonomous system, Pilot Assist, has the same shortcoming. The same is true for any car currently equipped with adaptive cruise control, or automated emergency braking. It sounds like a glaring flaw, the kind of horrible mistake engineers race to eliminate. Nope. These systems are designed to ignore static obstacles because otherwise, they couldn't work at all. The long term solution is to combine a several sensors, with different abilities, with more computing power. Key amongst them is lidar. These sensors use lasers to build a precise, detailed map of the world around the car, and can easily distinguish between a hub cap and a cop car. The problem is that compared to radar, lidar is a young technology. It's still very expensive, and isn't robust enough to survive a life of hitting potholes and getting pelted with rain and snow. Just about everybody working on a fully self-driving system—the kind that doesn't depend on lazy, inattentive humans for support—plans to use lidar, along with radar and cameras. Except for Elon Musk. The Tesla CEO insists he can make his cars fully autonomous—no supervision necessary—with just radars and cameras.



AGRICULTURE/FOOD

Why Robots Should Shake the Bejeezus out of Cherry Trees – (Wired – January 24, 2018)
Between 2002 and 2014, American farms lost nearly 150,000 laborers, or 20% of the workforce. People just aren't flocking to the jobs. So the future of agriculture will be increasingly robotic. One startup, for instance, has developed a robot that spots apples and picks them with a suction tube. And a machine called the LettuceBot rolls through fields eyeballing weeds and automatically spraying them. Researchers at Washington State University have developed algorithms that scan a tree for individual branches, then determine what bit of each branch to grasp and shake to extract the most cherries—up to nearly 90% of them. The robot to do the actual work doesn’t exist yet. But what Manoj Karkee, an agricultural roboticist at Washington State University envisions is a machine with six, maybe eight arms that rolls through the orchard grabbing branches and giving them a good shake. Actually developing a robot that works outdoors, though, is no small task. “You're potentially dealing with moisture, with driving on rugged ground,” says Jon Binney, co-founder & CTO of Iron Ox, which has developed an automated indoor farming system. “All solvable mechanical problems, but non-trivial.” See also the related video on indoor automated farming at the bottom of this article.






SECURITY AND THE FUTURE OF WARFARE

Your Sloppy Bitcoin Drug Deals Will Haunt You for Years – (Wired – January 26, 2018)
Perhaps you bought some illegal narcotics on the Silk Road half a decade ago, back when that digital black market for every contraband imaginable was still online and bustling. You might already regret that decision, for any number of reasons. After all, the four bitcoins you spent on that bag of hallucinogenic mushrooms would now be worth about as much as an Alfa Romeo. But one group of researchers wants to remind you of yet another reason to rue that transaction: If you weren't particularly careful in how you spent your cryptocurrency, the evidence of that drug deal may still be hanging around in plain view of law enforcement, even years after the Silk Road was torn off the dark web. Researchers at Qatar University and the country's Hamad Bin Khalifa University have published findings that show just how easy it may be to dredge up evidence of years-old bitcoin transactions when spenders didn't carefully launder their payments. In well over 100 cases, they could connect someone's bitcoin payment on a dark web site to that person's public account. In more than 20 instances, they say, they could easily link those public accounts to transactions specifically on the Silk Road, finding even some purchasers' specific names and locations. Bitcoin's privacy paradox has long been understood by its savvier users: Because the cryptocurrency isn't controlled by any bank or government, it can be very difficult to link anyone's real-world identity with their bitcoin stash. But the public ledger of bitcoin transactions known as the blockchain also serves as a record of every bitcoin transaction from one address to another. Find out someone's address, and discovering who they're sending money to or receiving it from becomes trivial, unless the spender takes pains to route those transactions through intermediary addresses, or laundering services that obscure the payment's origin and destination.




TRENDS OF GOVERNANCE

Private U.S. Detention Center Punishes Immigrants for Refusing to Work, Intercept Reports – (TruthDig – January 15, 2018)
A privately run U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention center in rural Georgia forced a detainee into solitary confinement after he encouraged other detainees to stop working in a labor program, although ICE claims the program is voluntary, according to The Intercept. The news organization reports that those in ICE custody often work for just $1 per day. Shoaib Ahmed, 24, came to America to escape political persecution in Bangladesh, where he participated in the primary opposition party of what many viewed as the country’s authoritarian government. Upon arriving in the U.S., Ahmed was held in a detention center, where he has been for more than a year. He says he was forced to work in ICE facilities and punished with solitary confinement when he refused. He is now in the process of being deported. Late last month, ICE detainees at a CoreCivic-run facility in California sued the private prison contractor, alleging that they had been threatened with solitary confinement if they did not work. In October, The Intercept reported that officials had placed another detainee in solitary confinement for 30 days for “encouraging others to participate in a work stoppage” at the same privately run facility where Ahmed was disciplined, the Stewart Detention Center in Lumpkin, Georgia. According to the website Endisolation.org, the U.S. operates the largest immigration detention infrastructure in the world, with between 380,000 and 442,000 people detained per year. (Editor’s note: That’s quite a large source of what is effectively slave labor at the disposal of for-profit prisons.) For more details, see original article in The Intercept.

Rep. Gabbard Speaks Truth to Power about the Real Reason North Korea Has Nukes – (Nation of Change – January 16, 2018)
Tulsi Gabbard, the Democratic congresswoman from Hawaii, interviewed on ABC News, declared unambiguously that the reason that North Korea has worked so diligently to develop nuclear weapons and missiles capable of delivering them to the U.S. is that the United States over several decades and under a number of presidents, has had a policy of “regime change,” and a history of violently attempting to overthrow governments that it doesn’t like. She is firm in saying that the U.S. history of overthrowing Libyan leader Muamar Gaddafi after first convincing him that if he dropped his efforts to develop a nuclear weapon they would not attempt to overthrow his government, and then invading and overthrowing him, and of invading and overthrowing Saddam Hussein after trumping up a fake claim that he was attempting to develop nuclear weapons, will make it all the harder to convince North Korean leader Kim Jong-un to agree to halt or scale back, much less eliminate his nuclear weapons and missile arsenal. She adds that President Trump’s current threat to cancel an agreement reached by his predecessor, President Barack Obama and the leaders of Iran to terminate their nuclear fuel enrichment program in return for the U.S. dropping sanctions on that country will also undermine any future efforts by the U.S. to reach negotiated agreements on weapons and nuclear disarmament with Kim and any other countries that might seek to go nuclear.



GLOBAL RELATIONS

Dutch Agencies Provide Crucial Intel about Russia's Interference in US-Elections – (Volkskrant – January 25, 2018)
In the summer of 2014, a hacker from the Dutch intelligence agency AIVD penetrated the computer network of a university building next to the Red Square in Moscow. With some effort and patience, the team manages to penetrate the internal computer network. The AIVD could then trace the Russian hackers' every step. It's unknown what exact information the hackers acquired about the Russians, but it is clear that it contained a clue as to the whereabouts of one of the most well-known hacker groups in the world: Cozy Bear, also referred to as APT29. The Cozy Bear hackers are in a space in a university building near the Red Square. The group's composition varies, usually about ten people are active. The entrance is in a curved hallway. A security camera records who enters and who exits the room. The AIVD hackers manage to gain access to that camera. Not only can the intelligence service now see what the Russians are doing, they can also see who's doing it. In Zoetermeer, these pictures are analyzed and compared to known Russian spies. Again, they've acquired information that will later prove to be vital. One year later, from the AIVD headquarters in Zoetermeer, he and his colleagues witnessed Russian hackers launching an attack on the Democratic Party in the United States. In November, (2014?), the Russians prepared for an attack on one of their prime targets: the American State Department. By then, they had obtained e-mail addresses and the login credentials of several civil servants. They managed to enter the non-classified part of the computer network. The AIVD and its military counterpart MIVD informed the NSA-liaison at the American embassy in The Hague. He immediately alerted the different American intelligence services. What followed was a rare battle between the attackers who were attempting to further infiltrate the State Department, and its defenders, FBI and NSA teams - with clues and intelligence provided by the Dutch. Eventually, the Americans manage to dispel the Russians from the Department, but not before Russian attackers use their access to send an e-mail to a person in the White House. He thought he'd received an e-mail from the State Department - the e-mail address was similar - and clicked a link in the message. The link opened a website where the White House employee then entered his login credentials, now obtained by the Russians. And that is how the Russians infiltrated the White House. (Editor’s note: This article, an English translation from the original Dutch newspaper article, offers greater depth and somewhat different detail from what we’ve seen in US news coverage.)

The Persecution of Julian Assange – (Paul Craig Roberts – January 12, 2018)
The persecution of Julian Assange, the founder of Wikileaks, is now seven years old. Ecuador has protected Assange for the past half decade from being turned over to Washington by the corrupt Swedish and British for torture and prosecution as a spy by giving Assange political asylum inside the Ecuadorian Embassy in London. Ecuador has now given citizenship to Assange and attempted to provide his safe transit out of England by giving him diplomatic status, but the British government continued in its assigned role of jailer by rejecting Ecuador’s request for diplomatic status for Assange, just as the most servile of Washington’s puppet states rejected the order by the UN Committee on Arbitrary Detention to immediate release Assange from his arbitrary detention. Assange got into trouble with Washington, because his news organization, Wikileaks, published files released by Bradley Manning. The files were a tremendous embarrassment to Washington, because they showed how Washington conspires against governments and betrays its allies, and the files contained an audio/video film of US military forces murdering innocent people walking down a street and then murdering a father and his two young children who stopped to give aid to the civilians the American soldiers had shot. Rape charges were investigated, and the chief Swedish prosecutor Eva Finne dismissed the charges, saying “there is no suspicion of any crime whatsoever.” Even though Sweden has closed a case based on a false report by police and have no basis for any charges against Assange, the British government says it will grab him the minute he steps outside the embassy.

The U.S. Is No Stranger to Interfering in the Elections of Other Countries – (LA Times – December 21, 2017)
The CIA has accused Russia of interfering in the 2016 presidential election by hacking into Democratic and Republican computer networks and selectively releasing emails. But critics might point out the U.S. has done similar things. The U.S. has a long history of attempting to influence presidential elections in other countries – it's done so as many as 81 times between 1946 and 2000, according to a database amassed by political scientist Dov Levin of Carnegie Mellon University. Levin defines intervention as "a costly act which is designed to determine the election results [in favor of] one of the two sides." These acts, carried out in secret two-thirds of the time, include funding the election campaigns of specific parties, disseminating misinformation or propaganda, training locals of only one side in various campaigning or get-out-the-vote techniques, helping one side design their campaign materials, making public pronouncements or threats in favor of or against a candidate, and providing or withdrawing foreign aid. The U.S. hasn't been the only one trying to interfere in other countries' elections, according to Levin's data. Russia attempted to sway 36 foreign elections from the end of World War II to the turn of the century – meaning that, in total, at least one of the two great powers of the 20th century intervened in about 1 of every 9 competitive, national-level executive elections in that time period.



LIFE STYLE/SOCIAL TRENDS AND VALUES

The Invasion of the German Board Games – (Atlantic Monthly – January 21, 2018)
In a development that would have been hard to imagine a generation ago, when video games were poised to take over living rooms, board games are thriving. Overall, the latest available data shows that U.S. sales grew by 28% between the spring of 2016 and the spring of 2017. Revenues are expected to rise at a similar rate into the early 2020s—largely, says one analyst, because the target audience “has changed from children to adults,” particularly younger ones. Games have proliferated on Kickstarter, where anyone with a great idea and a contact at an industrial printing company can circumvent the usual toy-and-retail gatekeepers who green-light new concepts. (The largest project category on Kickstarter is “Games,” and board games make up about three-quarters of those projects.) Growth has also been particularly swift in the category of “hobby” board games, which comprises more sophisticated titles that are oriented toward older players—think Settlers of Catan. These games, compared to ones like Monopoly and Cards Against Humanity, represent a niche segment, but that segment is becoming something more than a niche: According to ICv2, a trade publication that covers board games, comic books, and other hobbyist products, sales of hobby board games in the U.S. and Canada increased from an estimated $75 million to $305 million between 2013 and 2016, the latest year for which data is available. Hobbyists around the world started paying serious attention to German-style board games (or “Eurogames,” as they’re now more commonly known) following the creation of Settlers of Catan in 1995. While it took more than a decade for that game to gain a cultural foothold, there seems to be no going back: Much in the way that Cold War–era American beer connoisseurs gravitated to the higher quality and vastly larger variety offered by European imports in the era before stateside microbrews took off, players who’d become bored with the likes of Monopoly and Scrabble started to note the inventive new titles coming out of Germany. In North America, the complex board games created during the latter half of the 20th century typically took the form of simulated warfare. In Risk, Axis & Allies, Star Fleet Battles, and Victory in the Pacific, players take on the role of generals moving their units around tabletop maps. But for obvious reasons, this wasn’t a model that resonated positively with the generation of Germans who grew up in the shadow of the Third Reich. Which helps explain why all of the most popular Eurogames are based around building things—communities (Catan), civilizations (Terra Mystica), farms (Agricola)—rather than annihilating opponents. The result is vastly more pacifist style games that can appeal to women as much as men, and to older adults as much as high-testosterone adolescents. This way of playing also caters to what most people actually want out of game nights: to unwind, to avoid boredom and humiliation, and to end the night as friends.

We Should Consider Obesity as a Kind of Contagious Disease, Study Shows – (Science Alert – January 24, 2018)
It's often described as an epidemic, but rising obesity figures might have more in common with infectious diseases than we ever realized. New research has added evidence to the idea that being in a social network with a higher level of obesity puts us more at risk of increasing our body mass index (BMI), almost as if we were 'catching' behaviours that make us put on weight. To get around the problem of choosing social groups, researchers turned to a rather special type of community that assigns families to live close together from far and wide – the military base. They combined details on 1,111 young adolescents and more than 1,300 parents who had been assigned to one of 12 military bases in the US. The incidences of obesity varied across the counties where the bases were located, from 21% in El Paso County, Colorado, to 38% in Vernon County, Louisiana. Measurements of the parents' and teens' BMIs revealed about a quarter of the teens and three quarters of the adults could be categorized as overweight or obese. Once adjustments were made to take into account the effects of things like age, income, and even rank, it was found that members of a military family were more likely to have a higher BMI if they'd been assigned to a base in a country with greater obesity levels. There were other indications that exposure to the local culture was behind this difference, such as the fact this relationship was stronger for families who lived off base in the surrounding community.

Maybe It’s Time to Regulate Gadgets and Apps Like Cigarettes – (Fast Company – January 27, 2018)
Tech companies put a lot of work into designing their products to be “sticky.” That’s investor deck speak, but everyone knows what sticky really means: addictive. While that may be good for the companies and their funders, a growing body of research is showing that it’s not so good for us users, and especially not for teens or kids. Speaking at a dinner Thursday night in Davos during the World Economic Forum, super-investor George Soros (whose fund owned several thousand shares of Facebook as of November) went on a tirade, comparing Google and Facebook to resource-extraction companies (“Mining and oil companies exploit the physical environment; social-media companies exploit the social environment.”) and to casinos (they “deliberately engineer addiction into the services they provide.”) And: “Something very harmful and maybe irreversible is happening to human attention in our digital age,” Soros said. “Not just distraction or addiction; social media companies are inducing people to give up their autonomy.” Soros said now that it’s becoming harder to find brand-new users, social media companies have no choice but to please investors by demanding more of our time. But he’s just the latest in a string of statements from important industry voices in the last few months. Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff has said that Facebook should be regulated like a tobacco product. Earlier this month, a pair of Apple’s institutional investors raised the flag on adolescent smartphone abuse. Another Apple institutional investor chimed in with the simple fact that everybody knows but doesn’t often say: “Addictive things are very profitable.” It is hard to imagine how governments could regulate the tech companies when it comes to the mental health effects they have in users, but what if consumers begin to see tech companies as heartless, profit-hungry, dopamine dealers? The user experience might begin to feel very different.



CONTACT AND THE EXPLORATION OF SPACE

Test of Einstein's Theory Confirms the Sun Is Losing Mass – (GizModo – January 18, 2018)
Albert Einstein demonstrated that Newton’s laws of motion break down when dealing with very large masses. He created his theory of general relativity to account for this: gravity is a manifestation of the warping of spacetime caused by massive bodies like the sun. Mercury’s orbit shows this warping most clearly—and, indeed, before Einstein’s work, scientists were long puzzled by its strangeness, even attributing it to gravitational effects from a made-up planet called Vulcan. Now, a team of researchers in the U.S. are using new measurements of Mercury’s orbit to learn more about the sun—and more about Einstein’s theory itself. Mercury, being so affected by the sun’s gravity, offers a way for scientists to spot tiny differences between theoretical predictions of the sun’s gravity and what we actually observe, by measuring the orbit of Mercury for a long time. Thankfully, we had the MESSENGER probe orbiting Mercury to make these calculations (it crashed into Mercury in 2015). Seven years of data, combined with observations of how the sun uses up its hydrogen fuel, reveal that the sun is slowly, ever so slightly, loosening its grasp on Mercury. This was one of the “first experimental observations of the solar mass loss,” according to the paper published in Nature Communications. Such an effect is minuscule and could cause a broadening of Earth’s orbit equal to less than an inch a year. “This kind of information is not a matter of concern,” said Antonio Genova, the author of the study from MIT, “but could be very useful to monitor the sun itself.”



NEW TOOLS/NEW PROCESSES

Pet Translator: Scientist Developing Device To Convert Dog Barks Into English Language – (Tech Times – January 15, 2018)
Using artificial intelligence, scientists learn how to translate vocalizations and facial expressions of animals into something that humans can understand. Animal behavior expert Con Slobodchikoff is one of these researchers whose work may allow pets and their owners to effectively converse with each other using a pet translator in less than ten years. Slobodchikoff, from Northern Arizona University, has studied footage of dogs engaged in a range of behaviors including growling, barking and howling, and used AI to understand how these animals communicate. He hopes that with the help of machine learning, computers can help humans understand what a particular gesture of pets such as the wagging of the tail, or growling really means. The researcher has been studying North American prairie dogs for 30 years. He found that the animals have their own language system that conveys complicated instructions and commands. The rodents also use calls that alert members of their group of incoming threats. Interestingly, these warnings include specific information about the predator such as its size and coat color. Working with a computer scientist, Slobodchikoff developed an algorithm that converted the prairie dog's vocalizations into English. He has since expanded his work to include studying the behaviors and barkings of dogs. In 2017, he founded the Zoolingua company to develop a similar tool he used to understand the prairie dog's vocalization to translate facials expressions, sounds and body movements of pets. "If we can do this with prairie dogs, we can certainly do it with dogs and cats," the animal expert said.



ECONOMY/FINANCE/BUSINESS

4 Things Children Born in 2018 Probably Won’t Experience at Work – (WEF – January 12, 2018)
Remember memos, fax machines, secretaries and filing? Much of what was once the norm has become more or less obsolete in the modern workplace. So what will the world of work look like for children born this year? Here are four things which may seem as outdated as wage packets by the time they are ready to start earning. For example, 2027 is the expected year when the majority of the US workforce works free-lance. Already, 36% of the US workforce is working free-lance. Even Apple Pay or Google Wallet, or payment platforms such as PayPal or Square may become old-fashioned, with the next generation of workers opting for a hand microchip implant for ultimate convenience. And that’s before (and if) the rise of cryptocurrencies becomes a spending reality in malls and on high streets.

Inside Amazon’s Surveillance-powered No-checkout Convenience Store – (Tech Crunch – January 21, 2018)
By now many have heard of Amazon’s audacious attempt to shake up the retail world, the cashless, cashierless Go store. Walk in, grab what you want, and walk out. I got a chance to do just that recently, as well as pick the brain of one of its chief architects. As you might have seen in the promo video, you enter the store (heretofore accessible to Amazon employees only) through a gate that opens when you scan a QR code generated by the Amazon Go app on your phone. At this moment (well, actually the moment you entered or perhaps even before) your account is associated with your physical presence and cameras begin tracking your every move. The many, many cameras. The system is made up of dozens and dozens of camera units mounted to the ceiling, covering and recovering every square inch of the store from multiple angles. I’d guess there are maybe a hundred or so in the store I visited, which was about the size of an ordinary bodega or gas station mart. The images captured from these cameras are sent to a central processing unit (for lack of a better term, not knowing exactly what it is), which does the real work of quickly and accurately identifying different people in the store and objects being picked up or held. Picking something up adds it to your “virtual shopping cart,” and you can pop it in a tote or shopping bag as fast as you like. No need to hold it up for the system to see. This is where the secret sauce is, Dilip Kumar, the projects VP of Technology said. As banal a problem as it may seem to determine which similarly dressed person picked up which nearly identical yogurt cup, it’s very difficult to get right at the speed and accuracy level needed in order to base an entire business on it. Notably, there is no facial recognition used. Amazon perhaps sensed early on that this would earn them rebuke from privacy-conscious shoppers. Instead, the system uses other visual cues and watches for continuity between cameras — you’re never not in sight of a lens, so it’s easy for the system to see a shopper move from one camera to another and make the connection. It’s a bit overkill, I think, to replace a checker or self-checkout stand with a hundred cameras that unblinkingly record every tiny movement. What’s to gain? 20 or 30 seconds of your time back? Lack of convenience has hardly been a complaint for this market — it’s right there in the name: “convenience store.” Like so many ways companies are applying tech today, this seems to me an immense amount of ingenuity and resources being used to “solve” something that few people care about and fewer still consider a problem. (Editor’s note: “What’s to gain” is a technology that can ultimately replace almost all cashiers – and all cash. We wondered if/when Amazon would license its technology to other retailers.)



PROVOCATIVE IDEAS

Why We’re Underestimating American Collapse – (Eudaimonia – January 25, 2018)
When we take a hard look at US collapse, we see a number of social pathologies on the rise. Not just any kind. Not even troubling, worrying, and dangerous ones. But strange and bizarre ones. Unique ones. For example, America has had 11 school shootings in the last 23 days. That’s one every other day, more or less. That statistic is alarming enough — but perspective asks us for comparison. Eleven school shootings in 23 days is more than anywhere else in the world. In fact, the phenomenon of regular school shootings appears to be a unique feature of American collapse — it just doesn’t happen in any other country. And there is also an “opioid epidemic”. But here is what is really curious about it: In many countries in the world — most of Asia and Africa — one can buy all the opioids one wants from any local pharmacy, without a prescription. You might suppose then that opioid abuse as a mass epidemic would be a global phenomenon. Yet we don’t see opioid epidemics anywhere but America — especially not ones so vicious and widespread they shrink life expectancy. The last pathology is one of the soul: Americans don’t appear to be too disturbed, moved, or even affected by the four pathologies above: their kids killing each other, their social bonds collapsing, being powerless to live with dignity,or having to numb the pain of it all away.

A Field Guide to Deception – (Technology Review – January 9, 2018)
A crowdsourced psychology experiment reveals that when it comes to dishonesty, there are three kinds of people. Given the chance to lie for their own benefit, which people will take the opportunity? What percentage always tell the truth regardless of how much is at stake? And what percentage always lie to maximize their gain? Psychologists also want to know whether these behaviors are intuitive. Are we hard-wired to lie or tell the truth? The answer has important implications for our understanding of human nature and our efforts to encourage or discourage certain behaviors in society. We now have some insight into these questions thanks to the work of Hélène Barcelo at the Mathematical Sciences Research Institute in Berkeley and Valerio Capraro at the Middlesex University Business School in London. They have devised a clever way to test our inherent veracity and say their data suggest that humans fall into three categories: the good, the bad, and the angry. (Editor’s note: The experimental design is indeed interesting, but the article doesn’t explain well enough why “angry” is the right word for “conditional liars who assess the payoff and lie if they are upset with the outcome”.)



FOR WHAT IT'S WORTH - articles off the beaten track which may - or may not - have predictive value.

NSA Deletes “Honesty” and “Openness” From Core Values – (Intercept – January 24, 2018)
The National Security Agency maintains a page on its website that outlines its mission statement. But earlier this month, the agency made a discreet change: It removed “honesty” as its top priority. Since at least May 2016, the surveillance agency had featured honesty as the first of four “core values” listed on NSA.gov, alongside “respect for the law,” “integrity,” and “transparency.” The agency vowed on the site to “be truthful with each other.” On January 12, however, the NSA removed the mission statement page – which can still be viewed through the Internet Archive – and replaced it with a new version. Now, the parts about honesty and the pledge to be truthful have been deleted. The agency’s new top value is “commitment to service,” which it says means “excellence in the pursuit of our critical mission.” Those are not the only striking alterations. In its old core values, the NSA explained that it would strive to be deserving of the “great trust” placed in it by national leaders and American citizens. It said that it would “honor the public’s need for openness.” But those phrases are now gone; all references to “trust,” “honor,” and “openness” have disappeared. (Editor’s note: In fairness to the NSA, although “openness” is no longer mentioned, one of the new core values does include “transparency”: a commitment “to providing complete transparency to those who authorize and oversee NSA's work on behalf of the American people” – but not, it might be noted, to the American people themselves. The previous wording was: “We embrace transparency to the fullest extent possible. We never forget that we, too, are Americans and that every activity we engage in is aimed at ensuring the safety, security, and liberty of our fellow citizens.” If nothing else, at least the NSA deserves some brownie points for a reduction in hypocrisy.)



JUST FOR FUN

Google's Museum App Finds Your Fine Art Doppelgänger – (Engadget – January 15, 2018)
If you've ever wondered if there's a museum portrait somewhere that looks like you and you're ready to have your ego crushed, there's now an app for that. Google Arts & Culture's latest update now lets you take a selfie, and using image recognition, finds someone in its vast art collection that most resembles you. It will then present you and your fine art twin side-by-side, along with a percentage match, and let you share the results on social media, if you dare. For best results, grow a beard. The app is like an automated version of an article that circulated recently showing folks standing in front of portraits at museums. In many cases, the old-timey people in the paintings resemble them uncannily, but, other than in rare cases, that's not the case at all with Google's app. From the results, it's pretty clear that deep learning systems like those from Google are great at matching individual details – and still have some learning to do. See also: The Very Good Reason Why You Can't Get That Google Art-Selfie Feature in Illinois or Texas



A FINAL QUOTE

I'm looking for a lot of men who have an infinite capacity to not know what can't be done. -- Henry Ford



A special thanks to: Chas Freeman, Ursula Freer, Humera Khan, Diane Petersen, Gary Sycalik, Steve Ujvarosy and all of you who have sent us interesting links in the past. If you see something we should know about, do send it along - thanks.
johnp@arlingtoninstitute.org




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