How self-driving cars could make everything worse, and what to do about it

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The promise of self-driving cars is to take our vehicle fleets from 5% utilization to near-100% utilization, reducing congestion, parking problems, emissions and road accidents. But what if the cheapest way to "park" your autonomous vehicle is to have it endlessly circle the block while you're at work? What do we do about the lost jobs of bus-, truck- and cab-drivers? How will we pay for roads if gas-tax revenues plummet thanks to all-electric fleets? Read the rest

Feats of strength

An essential parenting skill (Thanks, Fipi Lele!) Read the rest

If the 2016 election is hacked, it's because no one listened to these people

Ever since the Supreme Court ordered the nation's voting authorities to get their act together in 2002 in the wake of Bush v Gore, tech companies have been flogging touchscreen voting machines to willing buyers across the country, while a cadre computer scientists trained in Ed Felten's labs at Princeton have shown again and again and again and again that these machines are absolutely unfit for purpose, are trivial to hack, and endanger the US election system. Read the rest

Forget Skynet: AI is already making things terrible for people who aren't rich white dudes

Kate Crawford (previously) takes to the New York Times's editorial page to ask why rich white guys act like the big risk of machine-learning systems is that they'll evolve into Skynet-like apex-predators that subjugate the human race, when there are already rampant problems with machine learning: algorithmic racist sentencing, algorithmic, racist and sexist discrimination, algorithmic harassment, algorithmic hiring bias, algorithmic terrorist watchlisting, algorithmic racist policing, and a host of other algorithmic cruelties and nonsense, each one imbued with unassailable objectivity thanks to its mathematical underpinnings. Read the rest

Luna's prime real-estate and how to seize it

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Though 1967's Outer Space Treaty says no country can lay claim to the moon (and thus no person can get a deed to lunar territory), the treaty does allow for commercial and scientific installations on Luna, and there are some very small, very valuable bits of crater rim that could be squatted in this way, to the enormous benefit of whomever gets there first (and the detriment of all others). Read the rest

The Tor Project's social contract: we will not backdoor Tor

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I first encountered the idea of "social contracts" for software projects in Neal Stephenson's seminal essay In the Beginning Was the Command Line, which endorsed the Debian project on the strength of its social contract: "As far as I know, Debian is the only Linux distribution that has its own constitution." Read the rest

Cash grants to people with unexpected bills successfully prevents homelessness

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In The impact of homelessness prevention programs on homelessness (Scihub mirror), a group of academic and government economists show that giving an average of $1,000 to people in danger of losing their homes due to unexpected bills (for example, emergency medical bills) is a successful strategy for preventing homelessness, which costs society a lot more than $1,000 -- more importantly, these kinds of cash grants do not create a culture of "dependency" that leads to recklessness, nor does it have a merely temporary effect. Read the rest

How a digital-only smartphone opens the door to DRM (and how to close the door)

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Fast Company's Mark Sullivan asked me to explain what could happen if Apple went through with its rumored plans to ship a phone with no analog sound outputs, only digital ones -- what kind of DRM badness might we expect to emerge? Read the rest

As social media centralized, blogging's core infrastructure has withered

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When "social media" meant "blogs," there were many tools, services and protocols that comprised an infrastructure for federated, open, loosely joined interaction: the rise of the social giants has killed off much of this infrastructure, all but erasing it from our memories. Read the rest

48 hours later, Adblock Plus beats Facebook's adblocker-blocker

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On August 9, Facebook announced that it had defeated adblockers; on August 11, Adblock Plus announced that it had defeated Facebook. Read the rest

Star Trek white noise machine/starfield projector/alarm clock

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Really, Thinkgeek's $150 Star Trek White Noise Sleep Machine does it all: projects a moving starfield on your ceiling, plays starship-like white noise loops while you drift off, presents a goofily plausible UI and form-factor straight out of the Roddenverse, and can even play the red alert klaxon as its alarm-tone. Read the rest

Ocean's Ocho: an Ocean's Eleven movie with an all-woman lead cast

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In 2001, Steven Soderbergh rebooted the 1960 Rat Pack classic Ocean's 11, kicking off a string of sequels of varying success (the good ones are very good, the bad ones aren't utterly terrible). Now, Gary Ross is making Ocean's Ocho, an all-female "spinoff." Read the rest

100 million VWs can be unlocked with a $40 cracker (and other cars aren't much better)

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In Lock It and Still Lose It—On the (In)Security of Automotive Remote Keyless Entry Systems, a paper given at the current Usenix Security conference in Austin, researchers with a proven track record of uncovering serious defects in automotive keyless entry and ignition systems revealed a technique for unlocking over 100,000 million Volkswagen cars, using $40 worth of hardware; they also revealed a technique for hijacking the locking systems of millions of other vehicles from other manufacturers. Read the rest

DEA bribes rail/airline employees for tipoffs that lead to warrantless cash seizures

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A USA Today investigation has discovered a network of paid informants working for Amtrak and nearly every US airline who illegally delve into passengers' travel records to find people who might be traveling with a lot of cash: these tip-offs are used by the DEA to effect civil forfeiture -- seizing money without laying any charges against its owner, under the rubric that the cash may be proceeds from drug sales. One Amtrak secretary was secretly paid $854,460 to raid her employer's databases for the DEA. Read the rest

Trump is an object lesson in the problems of machine learning

Trump's algorithm is to say semi-random things until his crowd roars its approval, then he iteratively modifies those statements, seeking more and more approval, until he maxes out and tries a new tack. Read the rest

Trump only writes the angry tweets, the nice ones are written by a staffer with an Iphone

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On August 6, artist Todd Vaziri observed that all of Trump's angry tweets come from the Twitter client for Android, while the more presidential, less batshit ones come from an Iphone; Vaziri speculated that the latter were sent by a staffer. Read the rest

Aviation's war on moisture turns ten today

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Ten years ago, British domestic security claimed to have caught a terrorist cell that had planned to blow up airplanes with a gel they'd carry on in a Gatorade bottle and detonate with an Ipod. Read the rest

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