Fansmitter: malware that exfiltrates data from airgapped computers by varying the sound of their fans

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In a new paper, researchers from Ben-Gurion University demonstrate a fiendishly clever procedure for getting data off of airgapped computers that have had their speakers removed to prevent acoustic data-transmission: instead of playing sound through the target computer's speakers, they attack its fans, varying their speeds to produce subtle sounds that humans can barely notice, but which nearby devices can pick up through their microphones. Read the rest

Rubber fingertips to use with fingerprint-based authentication systems

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Mian Wei, a Chinese student at the Rhode Island School of Design, has created an experimental series of fake fingertips with randomly generated fingerprints that work with Apple and Android fingerprint authentication schemes, as well as many others. Read the rest

Beyond "solutionism": what role can technology play in solving deep social problems

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Ethan Zuckerman -- formerly of Global Voices, now at the MIT Center for Civic Media -- has spent his career trying to find thoughtful, effective ways to use technology as a lever to make positive social change (previously), but that means that he also spends a lot of time in the company of people making dumb, high-profile, destructive suggestions for using technology to "solve" problems in ways that make them much worse. Read the rest

Broken Windows policing is nonsense

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For years, the NYPD and other police departments have justified the highly racialized practice of stop-and-frisk and zero-tolerance approaches to turnstyle hopping, etc, by citing the "broken windows" theory of policing -- the idea that if the police stop petty crime, major crime will follow. Read the rest

Electronics repair shops overbill for labor when the customer has insurance

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In Insurance coverage of customers induces dishonesty of sellers in markets for credence goods , a research paper in PNAS by German and Austrian economists, the authors show experimental evidence that electronics repair shops are more likely to overcharge for labor when their customers have insurance. Read the rest

Cataloging the problems facing AI researchers is a cross between a parenting manual and a management book

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Concrete Problems in AI Safety, an excellent, eminently readable paper from a group of Google AI researchers and some colleagues, sets out five hard problems facing the field: robots might damage their environments to attain their goals; robots might figure out how to cheat to attain their goals; supervising robots all the time is inefficient; robots that are allowed to try novel strategies might cause disasters; and robots that are good at one task might inappropriately try to apply that expertise to another unrelated task. Read the rest

Canadian trade policy expert calls TPP a "threat to democracy"

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Gus Van Harten is a law professor at York University's Osgoode Hall and a well-respected expert on trade law; he's published a damning report on the Trans Pacific Partnership deal. Read the rest

Cryogenic freezing improves coffee extraction

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A new study in Nature by University of Bath chemist Christopher Hendon and colleagues from various universities and coffee shops finds that cryogenic freezing of coffee beans prior to grinding them produces a more uniform grind that allows for optimal extraction. Read the rest

Let's teach programming as a tool for analyzing data to transform the world

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Data-scientist Kevin H Wilson argues that computers are tools for manipulating data -- from companies' sales data to the input from games controllers -- but we teach computer programming as either a way to make cool stuff (like games) or as a gateway to "rigorous implementation details of complicated language," while we should be focusing on fusing computer and math curriciula to produce a new generation of people who understand how to use computers to plumb numbers to find deep, nuanced truths we can act upon. Read the rest

The forgotten blockbuster locksport competitions of the mid-Victorian era

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Today, organizations like The Open Organisation of Lockpickers Worldwide support locksport with tools, educational materials, training and organized events, but in the Victorian era, locksmiths competed at expositions to show off their talents and show off the weaknesses of their competitors' wares. Read the rest

Every industry thinks it's special, but only finance gets treated that way

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Economist John Kay, who writes for the Financial Times, delivered a powerful, eminently readable critique of the finance industry last month at the Bank of International Settlements conference. Read the rest

Award-winning short sf film written by an AI is pretty good

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Director Oscar Sharp and AI researcher Ross Goodwin trained a machine-learning system with a huge pile of classic science fiction screenplays and turned it loose to write a short film. What emerged was an enigmatic 9-minute movie called Sunspring, which has just won Sci-Fi London's 48-hour challenge. Read the rest

Deep learning AI "autoencodes" Blade Runner, recreates it so faithfully it gets a takedown notice

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Artist and researcher Terence Broad is working on his master's at Goldsmith's computing department; his dissertation involved training neural networks to "autoencode" movies they've been fed. Read the rest

US government agency's own numbers predict virtually no gains from TPP

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The United States International Trade Commission, "an independent, bipartisan, quasi-judicial, federal agency of the United States that provides trade expertise to both the legislative and executive branches," has just tabled a deep, 792-page report on the likely economic benefits to the USA from the secretly negotiated, anti-democratic Trans-Pacific Partnership, and they predict that the agreement will deliver 0.01% growth to the US economy between now and 2032, when it will level off altogether. Read the rest

EFF: FBI & NIST's tattoo recognition program exploited prisoners, profiled based on religion, gave sensitive info to private contractors

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Dave Maass from EFF says, "Right now, NIST researchers are working with the FBI to develop tattoo recognition technology that police can use to learn as much as possible about people through their tattoos. But an EFF investigation has found that these experiments exploit inmates, with little regard for the research's implications for privacy, free expression, religious freedom, and the right to associate. And so far, researchers have avoided ethical oversight while doing it." Read the rest

Why 3D scans aren't copyrightable

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Something that baffles laypeople about copyright is what is, and is not, copyrightable; US law and international treaties protect the creative part of copyright, but not the labor part of copyright: merely working hard ("the sweat of the brow") on something isn't enough to give rise to a new copyright, but even a trivial amount of creative work is. So copying out the phone book gives you no copyright, even if it takes you all year, doesn't make it copyrightable. But writing a single haiku does. Read the rest

Bumblebees sense electricity with their fine hairs

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In 2013, Gregory Sutton from the University of Bristol published an important paper demonstrating that bumblebees can sense electricity (his experiment trained bees to associate current in fake flowers with nutrients, and showed that bees preferentially sought out electrified flowers), but now how they sensed it. Read the rest

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