If you read or talk tech you hear about blockchain everywhere, even in the context of fields of endeavor it wouldn’t seem to relate to. Cool. But what’s blockchain?
We have succumbed, in recent years, to technological passivity, the assumption that there’s nothing we can (or should) do about what an older generation used to call “progress.” But that’s not true.
War goes on, yet most of the world’s nations came together to ban landmines. Mines, humanity decided, were a horror we could no longer live with because their murderous potential remained long after the frontlines moved elsewhere, even after hostilities ceased, and mostly hurt civilians. Similarly, chemical weapons were banned after mustard gas scarred the World War I generation.
Here in the United States, societal consensus supports bans of hollow-point bullets that explode inside the body (they’re currently banned by the military), high-capacity magazines for guns, the bump stocks that came to our attention after the mass shooting at a country music festival in Las Vegas, and semi-automatic assault rifles.
Weapons aren’t the only tech to which society simply responds: “Hell no. Just. No.” Human cloning has prompted calls for bans by those who believe we shouldn’t plow ahead without better understanding the potential downsides. Alcohol and cigarettes are banned for children. Lots of drugs are banned. Banning products is a well-established societal and political prerogative.
Drones should be banned too: military drones as well as recreational ones. We already have a substantial body of evidence that they are dangerous. Potential advantages, on the other side, seem relatively modest. They’re cool. I’ve played with them.
No one has sat down to consider, in a careful measured way, the pros and cons of unmanned aerial vehicles. Where, as our skies are about to turn into the Wild West, are the Congressional hearings and expert opinions?
If you stop to think about it, selling drones to any yahoo with $400 is a recipe for chaos. Launched from the roof of a Manhattan apartment building, a pervert’s drone can peep through windows. A terrorist, or merely a doofus, can fly one into the blades of a low-flying helicopter or into the engine or windshield of a plane approaching the airport. And they will. It’s only a matter of time.
The terrorism potential became evident in 2015 when a guy accidentally flew his Phantom drone onto the White House lawn. Loading one with explosives is easy. Or a gun—a father and son affixed a pistol to a drone and fired it remotely in the woods of Connecticut.
I’m even less sanguine about corporate and institutional applications. Whether it’s Uber and NASA’s announcement that they plan to launch flying taxis in Los Angeles or Amazon’s imminent fleet of delivery drones, I’m not sure I want to live long enough to hear buzzing drones where birds are supposed to sing, or see some dude’s dinner pass overhead. Maybe a sane compromise is possible, like limiting the gadgets to flight paths above major roadways. Why can’t we figure that out now, before the inevitable technological growing pains (aka deaths and injuries and overall crapitude)?
While it’s easy to imagine how drones can improve our lives—they have already found missing hikers in the wilderness, for example—it is impossible to overstate how creepy it would be to put them into the hands of law enforcement. Obama attorney general Eric Holder said in 2013, and no legal expert challenged him, that the feds have the right to launch military drone strikes against American citizens on U.S. soil. California cops used one to track a rogue LAPD officer a few years ago. Local law enforcement drones could catch speeders, scan for expired vehicle registration and inspection stickers (stationary devices already do) and use thermal imaging devices to conduct warrantless searches. And there will come a day, not in the distant future, when the same Cleveland police department that shot 12-year-old Tamir Rice to death for the crime of playing while black will type commands into an iPad that controls an armed drone that blows up more innocent civilians.
This is serious, major dystopian horror-show crap. Can’t we stop it before it starts?
Overseas, and thus far from the decreasingly vigilant eyes of our increasingly establishmentarian journalists, the Trump Administration is expanding the military drone assassination program Obama expanded after inheriting it from Bush. Formerly focused on killing young men and whoever happens to be nearby in South Asian zones like Pakistan, where studies show that 98% of the thousands of victims were innocent, the drone killers are ramping up in new places like Africa.
“The number of American strikes against Islamist militants last year tripled in Yemen and doubled in Somalia from the figure a year before,” reports The New York Times. “Last month, an armed drone flown from a second base in Niger killed a Qaeda leader in southern Libya for the first time, signaling a possible expansion of strikes there.”
Like the innately disconcerting notion of letting local-yokel cops run wild with facial-recognition-enabled autopiloted self-guided missile drones, it is impossible to overstate how self-defeating America’s drone program has been to U.S. interests. Unlike here, where the nearly daily attacks barely rate a mention in the news, people in other countries and especially in the Muslim world are well aware of the fact that the vast majority of victims are innocent civilians, including many women and children. (Even the “guilty” men who die aren’t threats to the U.S., but rather to the corrupt local governments we supply with arms.) Local populations in cities where drones patrol the skies are jittery and resentful. Many have PTSD.
True, drones eliminate harm to American soldiers. But we operate them in macho cultures that prize honor and courage. Our unwillingness to risk our sons and daughters in ground combat makes us look not just like aggressors, but cowards worthy only of contempt. In a war for hearts and minds, drones are propaganda suicide.
We’ve begun a new arms race. When a foreign country or non-state actor attacks us with drones, who will listen when we complain?
Even in the short run, drone killings don’t work. “Eliminating jihadi military leaders through drone operations could temporarily disorganize insurgent groups,” Jean-Hervé Jezequel, deputy director of the International Crisis Group told the Times. “But eventually the void could also lead to the rise of new and younger leaders who are likely to engage into more violent and spectacular operations to assert their leadership.”
A drone ban doesn’t have to be forever. But it should last long enough for us to figure out, as Donald Trump used to say on the campaign trail, what the hell is going on.
(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the editorial cartoonist and columnist, is the author of “Francis: The People’s Pope.” You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)
This week marks the first time that a court – a real court, not a sick joke of a kangaroo tribunal like the FISA court, which approves every government request and never hears from opponents – has ruled on the legality of one of the NSA’s spying programs against the American people.
Verdict: privacy 1, police state 0.
Yet the police state goes on. Which is what happens in, you know, a police state. The pigs always win.
A unanimous three-judge ruling by the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, in New York, states unequivocally that the Obama Administration’s interpretation of the USA Patriot Act is fatally flawed. Specifically, it says, Congress never intended for Section 215 to authorize the bulk interception and storage of telephony metadata of domestic phone calls: the calling number, the number called, the length of the call, the locations of both parties, and so on. In fact, the court noted, Congress never knew what the NSA was up to before Snowden spilled the beans.
On the surface, this is good news.
It will soon have been two years since Snowden leaked the NSA’s documents detailing numerous government efforts to sweep up every bit and byte of electronic communications that they possibly can — turning the United States into the Orwellian nightmare of 1984, where nothing is secret and everything can and will be used against you. Many Americans are already afraid to tell pollsters their opinions for fear of NSA eavesdropping.
One can only imagine how chilling the election of a neo-fascist right-winger (I’m talking to you, Ted Cruz and Scott Walker) as president would be. Not that I’m ready for Hillary “privacy for me, not for thee” Clinton to know all my secrets.
Until now, most action on the reform front has taken place abroad, especially in Europe, where concern about privacy online has led individuals as well as businesses to snub American Internet and technology companies, costing Silicon Valley billions of dollars, and accelerated construction of a European alternative to the American dominated “cloud.”
Here in the United States, the NSA continued with business as usual. As far as we know, the vast majority of the programs revealed by Snowden are still operational; there are no doubt many frightening new ones launched since 2013. Members of Congress were preparing to renew the disgusting Patriot Act this summer. One bright spot was the so-called USA Freedom Act, which purports to roll back bulk metadata collection, but privacy advocates say the legislation had been so watered down, and so tolerant of the NSA’s most excessive abuses, that it was just barely more than symbolic.
Like the Freedom Act, this ruling is largely symbolic.
The problem is, it’s not the last word. The federal government will certainly appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, which could take years before hearing the case. Even in the short run, the court didn’t slap the NSA with an injunction to halt its illegal collection of Americans’ metadata.
What’s particularly distressing is the fact that the court’s complaint is about the interpretation of the Patriot Act rather than its constitutionality. The Obama Administration’s interpretation of Section 215 “cannot bear the weight the government asks us to assign to it, and that it does not authorize the telephone metadata program,” said the court ruling. However: “We do so comfortably in the full understanding that if Congress chooses to authorize such a far-reaching and unprecedented program, it has every opportunity to do so, and to do so unambiguously.”
Well, ain’t that peachy.
As a rule, courts are reluctant to annul laws passed by the legislative branch of government on the grounds of unconstitutionality. In the case of NSA spying on us, however, the harm to American democracy and society is so extravagant, and the failure of the system of checks and balances to rein in the abuses so spectacular, that the patriotic and legal duty of every judge is to do whatever he can or she can to put an end to this bastard once and for all.
It’s a sad testimony to the cowardice, willful blindness and lack of urgency of the political classes that the New York court kicked the can down the road, rather than declare the NSA’s metadata collection program a clear violation of the Fourth Amendment’s right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure.
(Ted Rall, syndicated writer and the cartoonist for The Los Angeles Times, is the author of the new critically-acclaimed book “After We Kill You, We Will Welcome You Back As Honored Guests: Unembedded in Afghanistan.” Subscribe to Ted Rall at Beacon.)
COPYRIGHT 2015 TED RALL, DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM
Originally published by ANewDomain.net:
aNewDomain exclusive Auckland, NZ, 01.04.2015 — Apple is soon to announce a smart firearm and will unveil the new weapon, called the Apple Gun, at a special scheduled to coincide with next spring’s Las Vegas Shooting Hunting and Outdoor Trade show, the largest gathering of gun fans and dealers in the nation.
The event, according to documents leaked to aNewDomain reporters at the Auckland Gun Show in New Zealand, will be timed to coincide with Apple’s 40th anniversary celebration in early April 2016.
The Apple Gun is a continuation of the Cupertino giant’s strategy of expanding its reach beyond personal computing into other products, like its planned Apple Car and widely-anticipated Apple Drone, sources close to the effort told aNewDomain.
Legal correspondent T. E. Wing unearthed Apple’s Apple Gun patent application, as filed with US Patent & Trademark Office, in August 2014. A rendering of the Apple Gun as Apple lawyers drew it in the Apple Gun patent application is below. At this writing, the patent is still pending.
Apple PR woman Katie Cotton refused to comment on the Apple Gun information that sources revealed to aNewDomain, saying Apple does not confirm or deny “rumors or unannounced products, however slim and sexy.” Apple CEO Tim Cook, contacted via his Google + account, refused to comment on the report, saying simply: “Imagine.”
Luckily, we don’t have to. Early ad copy obtained by aNewDomain reveals a forthcoming Apple-branded firearm that is is “beautiful, simple and accurate.” Not necessarily affordable to every consumer, Apple Gun is about to do for personal protection what the Apple iPhone did to the telephone, sources say.
The ad copy, leaked to aNewDomain at the New Zealand firearms convention early today, continues:
Imagine a firearm that doesn’t make a sound when fired. A weapon that doesn’t look ominous, but to the contrary, sports beautiful design that fits in at the office, at Whole Foods, even in the classroom. A gun with state-of-the-art quality front and center, making accidental maimings a thing of the past.
“A weapon for design freaks and liberals,” comments one source, speaking on condition of anonymity. “It’s brilliant. And deadly.”
“Though it’s going to surprise some of the company’s crunchy NPR-listening client base, this is a logical move for Apple,” said Shell Jackson, an analyst at Goldman Sachs’ tech division. And it’s just the beginning.
“Guns are a $32 billion a year business in the United States. Not only is Apple Gun a smartplay for market share in an industry that hasn’t seen a major design development since the demise of the flintlock, it will familiarize the red states – currently PC country – with the Apple brand.” He adds:
“Once Apple Gun has achieved significant market share, it will expand throughout the weapons and munitions sector into high-caliber heavy weapons, long-range missiles and laserguided bombs, armed drones, maybe even nuclear.”
Featuring smooth, clean lines, a clickwheel and translucent whiteness, Apple Gun is the culmination of Steve Jobs’ last product initiative, Project DeepSix, which was initiated 17 months before his death with the goal of reimagining the handgun. “What if guns were invented today? They wouldn’t be hypermasculine death machines for dimwitted nativist jocks. They’d be pretty. They’d have multiple functionalities: text messaging and other telecommunications, music player, flashlight, sports fitness applications, all tethered to your iPhone and uploaded to iCloud. They’d simplify our lives with beautiful design,” Jobs, a Buddhist known for his angry rants, told his team from his hospital bed, angrily yet calmly.
The Apple Gun “will free the gun from the gun owner,” the source said.
According to an internal company memo accidentally shared to a Dropbox folder owned by an Indian restaurant in Mountain View, California, Apple Gun “will revolutionize the gun concept” by “freeing the gun from the gun owner.”
Let’s say, for example, that you’re worried about someone breaking into your home while you’re at work. Simply leave Apple Gun on a table near your front door. A laser-activated sensor will notify you if someone enters, flash their image to your iPhone, which then relays to your Apple Watch, which must be fully charged to work properly.
If you don’t know the person, press “Y” to fire. If it’s your cleaning lady, press “N.”
What if you want to kill someone, or many someones, but you are too busy to stop them or lay in wait for them? Subscribers to the premium version of Apple’s iCloud storage service can load high-resolution photographs or personal descriptions of the target subjects, rank them in order of kill priority, sync up their Apple Gun, and violà! Just like that, thanks to Apple’s patented iHead facial-recognition software, whenever the intended victim steps anywhere near the line of fire, termination is automatic and guaranteed.
The twin problem is still being worked on.
A brief look at the Apple Gun patent application reveals a number of intriguing firearm tech features.
Merging traditional bullets and heat-seeking missile technology, Apple’s proprietary iBullet ammunition costs $100 each and will be sold in clips of 20.
Thanks to special casing and the replacement of gunpowder by the release of an electric charge, the dynamic rotation of the iBullet is fueled by the spin of the Earth’s electromagnetic field, working around the laws of physics that create that unpleasant bang in traditional modern firearms.
The last thing you’ll hear before an Apple Gun kills you is a soft “poof,” like the sound emanating from an especially mellow baby blowing a very tiny bubble.
Relatively small at the traditional barrel equivalent of .375 caliber, Apple Bullets locate a target’s heartbeat and follow it anywhere, even around corners. Upon striking flesh, DNA analysis determines the species of the victim as well as its obesity (or lack thereof), telling the bullet to travel the precise distance to the center of its heart before releasing its explosive charge.
Apple engineers on the gun team spent two years killing, and attempting to kill various life forms at a secret research facility in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert, near the site of the annual Burning Man festival. It is pictured at left.
“It’s a combination of experimentation, algorithms and good luck,” explained one member of the team on the condition of anonymity. “Provided the gun is fully charged” – battery power, company insiders concede, has not yet been fully optimized – “you can take out a rhesus monkey, a rattlesnake, a groundhog, a capybara or a drug-enraged human sociopath at 250 meters with 99.965% accuracy,” he said.
I for one am excited — no, thrilled — about the forthcoming Apple Gun. You know, I wouldn’t buy a gun. But you can take my smartgun out of my cold dead hands.
For aNewDomain, I’m Red Tall.
Originally published at ANewDomain.net:
If you were impressed by how fast the FBI placed the blame for the Sony entertainment hacks on North Korea, you weren’t alone. Internet forensics are notoriously complicated, so this was obviously the result of amazingly efficient detective work, right?
A number of security experts doubt the US government’s claim of certainty in their accusation.
“The FBI says the attack came from IP addresses — unique computer addresses — that trace back to North Korea,” NPR reports. But those could be spoofed.
“The fact that data was relayed through IPs associated with North Korea is not a smoking gun,” Scott Petry, a network security analyst with Authentic8, told the network. “There are products today that will route traffic through IP addresses around the world.”
The FBI also points to malware used in the Sony attacks. Strings of that code, the feds say, are identical to those used in previous attacks known to have been carried out by North Korean hackers. Perry says that doesn’t mean anything either. Malware gets recycled by hackers all the time. “It’s like saying, ‘My God, this bank robbery was conducted using a Kalashnikov rifle — it must be the Russians who did it!'”
US government officials told the media that they found communications between the hackers that indicated their language of origin was Korean, and other experts say that conclusion is tentative and premature at best.
“Although it’s possible that these messages were written by people whose native language is Korean, it is far more likely that they were Russians,” said Shlomo Argamon, computer science professor at the Illinois Institute of Technology and chief scientist with Taia Global, after examining the writing style.
Finally, there’s the motive problem, as Wired puts it.
We’ve been told that the hacks were carried out on the order of a petulant dictator out to censor a film that disrespected his majesty, Seth Rogen and James Franco’s assassination comedy “The Interview.” But the demands of the hackers seem to align closer to a financial shakedown. Russians, then? In particular, the demands that Sony “pay proper monetary compensation” or face further attacks, points to someone other than a nation-state. Plus, for what it’s worth, North Korea has angrily denied involvement.
So if it wasn’t North Korea – or more accurately, if the US government isn’t 100% certain that it was North Korea – what are they saying that it was – or more accurately, that they are 100% certain that it was?
Robert Graham, CEO of Errata Security, speculated to Wired that a political hack within the FBI “wanted it to be North Korea so much that they just threw away caution.” Once the Obama administration repeatedly told the media that they knew it was North Korea, that became an official narrative that could never be walked back. “There’s this whole groupthink that happens, and once it becomes the message, it’s really hard to say no it’s not this.”
We have seen government groupthink before.
Within hours after the first plane hit the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, network anchors and US government officials alike were openly jumping to the conclusion that Al Qaeda under the leadership of Osama bin Laden had to be responsible. As with the Sony hacks, what began as pure speculation based on circumstantial evidence – the theatrical nature of the attacks, their simultaneity and so on – soon became an official narrative that no one ever dared question, even when bin Laden denied responsibility (he had, on the other hand, claimed to have been behind the 1998 bombings of the US embassies in East Africa).
There are two parts of the equation here: responsibility and certainty. Who did it? How sure are we?
The FBI appears to be playing fast and loose with the latter question, much in the way that the Bush administration claimed to have been certain that the government of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction during the 2002-2003 run-up to the invasion of that country. The lie was not in claiming that Saddam possessed WMDs. The lie was claiming to be sure.
Bin Laden may well have been the sole financier and leader of the 9/11 plot, just as the North Korean government could be responsible for the Sony hacks. In both cases, however, a rush to judgment in anticipation of the facts may prevent some or all of the truth from ever coming to light. In the 9/11 case, for example, considerable evidence points to Islamic Jihad, a radical organization based in Egypt, as well as Saudi financiers. Pinning the blame exclusively on bin Laden and Al Qaeda let those guilty parties escape investigation, and perhaps punishment.
Similarly, the FBI’s premature passing of blame on the government of President Kim Jong-un could be muddying the waters, thus allowing the actual responsible parties to continue their activities and setting the stage for their next hack attack. Not to mention, is it really a good idea to antagonize a paranoid, nuclear-armed adversary that is already convinced the US intends to invade and occupy it, by falsely accusing them?
It would be nice, though perhaps too much to ask, for the United States government to seek the truth in a calm, deliberative manner. The media can wait after an attack to learn who’s to blame. So can we.
Originally published at ANewDomain.net:
It occurs to me, while following announcements of new gadgets coming out this week at CES 2015 in Las Vegas, that new technologies fall into different spectrums of desire. From a consumerism standpoint, new tech falls into four discrete categories (assuming one can afford them):
- Love: Products that, either consciously or unconsciously, you’ve always wanted and that you fall in love with the second you see them. For me, the musical equivalent is the Ramones: I loved them the first time I heard them. The iPod was like that. As soon as a friend explained that you could put 10,000 songs on that one tiny device, I was in, no further sales pitch required.
- Like: Stuff you don’t immediately care about, but come to desire after you learn more about it, whether by watching other people use them or learning more about them some other way. Musical equivalent: the Sex Pistols. First time I spun the disc, they sounded like an unholy racket … though I sensed something deeper, wittier and even smarter under all that noise. Twenty listens later, I was a fan. When tablets first came out, I didn’t grasp the appeal of a screen larger than a phone but smaller than a laptop — that is on all the time. Watching friends use theirs brought me around. For others, it was advertising.
- Dislike: Things that you personally dislike, but have to get in order to participate in society. I feel that way about The New Yorker magazine and social networks like Twitter and Facebook — I don’t care for them at all, yet I buy in. Mostly in order to avoid feeling disconnected from my friends and colleagues.
- Goods you won’t buy. No matter what.
So lets look at some promising goods CES is full of this year, and see what spectrum of desire they fall under.
These are TVs with higher resolution than the standard 1,080-pixel wide model that’s probably in your living room right now. They’ve been around for a few years, but the price points (roughly $7,800 in 2012) have been way too high for the average American. Now that 4K televisions are being sold for under $1,000, and are actually approaching the $450 average price of a standard flat screen, we are being told that 4K is about to become the new standard.
That’s probably true. Streaming content providers like Netflix are teaming up with manufacturers to make it so, in the words of Star Trek’s Jean-Luc Picard, but I suspect that most Americans currently categorize the purchase of a 4K television somewhere between categories two and three, between “maybe” and “only if they make me.”
Mainly, this is because most human beings’ eyes can’t tell the difference between their current flat screen, which really looks damned good if you think about what television used to look like, and the newfangled ones. Inertia rules: why replace a perfectly good TV?
Well, because they’ll make us. For instance: bye-bye Betamax, hello VHS.
Nevertheless, 4K purchases will increase in the next couple of years as the old flat screens are discontinued and dismissed by appliance store salesman as obsolete, not because of pressing demand by viewers for higher resolution, but because the industry is moving that way. You’ll love it soon, I bet.
This year’s CES is showcasing the early stages of driverless cars in the form of vehicles that park themselves and then come back to you all by their lonesome. This happens as though delivered by an invisible valet with apps that unlock the door, start the engine and adjust the internal temperatures so that everything is just perfect before you get inside.
Polls show that Americans don’t really know how to feel about driverless transportation technology. They think they’re cool, but also disquieting. Some understand the efficiency and safety advantages, such as the fact that a highway could hold two or three times as many cars at rush hour while traveling at higher rates of speed, and that a computer can react more quickly than a human being distracted by a text message.
For geeks, driverless technology clearly fits into category one, a must-have. For the rest of us, there will probably be buy-in — but not before a lot of education. Driverless cars don’t mark the rise of Skynet, but there’s still a creep factor in surrendering control of the road to a device you barely understand. (If you don’t believe me, take the AirTrain into JFK airport. No conductor. I’m not a fan.)
And don’t get me started on the possibility that hackers could tap into your auto’s controls and drive you off a cliff.
Internet of Things and All Those Little Gadgets
Energy Management appliances and devices that use sensors, algorithms and predictive technology to save energy on your refrigerators and home cooling and heating, on the other hand, will likely enjoy intrinsic, immediate appeal to many, if not most consumers. Who doesn’t like to pay less?
Until now the sales of devices like the high-tech thermostat Nest have been constrained by their relatively high cost. As prices become more affordable and accessible, they will become standard in many homes.
Robotics, wearables and virtual reality products, on the other hand, will divide consumers into each of my four categories of consumerist desire: love, like, dislike and hate.
Google Glass and the Apple Watch anticipated for later this year are, depending on who you are, either the coolest or derpiest things ever. People either want to be seen everywhere with them or not caught dead near them. Some people even want to ban them. I believe that these will be divisive for the foreseeable future, until the marketplace and popular culture arrives at some sort of consensus over whether these are must-haves or must-avoids.
Me? I’m all in when it comes to 3D printing. How about you?