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Selling data on millions ‘is the opposite of our business model,’ says Facebook’s Boz

Facebook’s former VP of ads has weighed in on the ongoing disaster involving his company’s apparent negligence in allowing data on as many as 50 million users to be used for nefarious purposes by Cambridge Analytica. In a post on (what else) Facebook , Andrew “Boz” Bosworth gave variations on the line we’ve come to expect from tech in these situations: They’re not supposed to do that, and anyway how could we have known? “This is the opposite of our business model,” he wrote. “Our interests are aligned with users when it comes to protecting data.” What reason could you possibly have to be skeptical of this declamation? He said much more than that, of course, and very earnestly indeed, but if you cut through the prevarication here’s the simplified timeline: Facebook deliberately allows developers to collect a bunch of data from users who authorize it, plus a bunch of their friends. (But developers have to promise they won’t use it in certain ways.) Shady people take advantage of this choice and collect as much data as possible for use off the Facebook network in ways Facebook can’t predict or control. (The quiz app in question is surely just one of many — this was an incredible opportunity for data snatchers.) Facebook fails to predict or control use of the data it released, and fails to protect users who never even knew their data had been released. (It also fails to learn that it has failed to control it.) The rest is noise, as far as I’m concerned. Even if anyone really believes that sharing data about users is not the Facebook business model, who cares what its business model is? Whatever plausible sounding business model it had before didn’t protect anyone, and didn’t stop these characters from collecting and using data in all sorts of shady ways. Of course there’s the strong possibility that Cambridge Analytica and others misused the data, didn’t delete it as promised, performed unsanctioned analyses on it. Oh no! Who would have thought someone would do that?

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Internet Archive adds trove of cheap LCD handhelds to its emulation collection

During CES, the single piece of electronics I spent the most time with, apart from my laptop and camera, was a Mattel Dungeons & Dragons Computer Fantasy Game handheld. This decades-old device held the attention of John Biggs and myself through quite a few drinks as we navigated its arcane interface (eventually slaying the dragon, thank you). These cheap handhelds, sold as impulse buys at drug stores and Toys ‘R Us (RIP), are the latest thing to be collected and emulated in full by MAME and the Internet Archive. At first when I heard this, I was happy but not particularly impressed. They’re great little devices — mostly terrible games, albeit a nostalgic kind of terrible — but how complicated can they be? Oh, quite complicated, it turns out. Unlike, say, an NES ROM, these little gadgets don’t have their graphics palettized, their logic isolated, etc. No, each one of these things is a strange and unique little machine. They must be carefully taken apart and their logic teased out by experts. For one thing, the graphics aren’t pixels accounted for digitally. They’re etched into the liquid crystal system, to be activated when a charge runs through them. In other words, all the graphics are right there on the same screen, arranged like puzzle pieces

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Here’s how Uber’s self-driving cars are supposed to detect pedestrians

A self-driving vehicle made by Uber has struck and killed a pedestrian. It’s the first such incident and will certainly be scrutinized like no other autonomous vehicle interaction in the past. But on the face of it it’s hard to understand how, short of a total system failure, this could happen, when the entire car has essentially been designed around preventing exactly this situation from occurring. Something unexpectedly entering the vehicle’s path is pretty much the first emergency event that autonomous car engineers look at. The situation could be many things — a stopped car, a deer, a pedestrian — and the systems are one and all designed to detect them as early as possible, identify them and take appropriate action. That could be slowing, stopping, swerving, anything. Uber’s vehicles are equipped with several different imaging systems which work both ordinary duty (monitoring nearby cars, signs and lane markings) and extraordinary duty like that just described. No less than four different ones should have picked up the victim in this case. Top-mounted lidar. The bucket-shaped item on top of these cars is a lidar, or light detection and ranging , system that produces a 3D image of the car’s surroundings multiple times per second. Using infrared laser pulses that bounce off objects and return to the sensor, lidar can detect static and moving objects in considerable detail, day or night. This is an example of a lidar-created imagery, though not specifically what the Uber vehicle would have seen.

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IBM working on ‘world’s smallest computer’ to attach to just about everything

IBM is hard at work on the problem of ubiquitous computing, and its approach, understandably enough, is to make a computer small enough that you might mistake it for a grain of sand. Eventually these omnipresent tiny computers could help authenticate products, track medications and more. Look closely at the image above and you’ll see the device both on that pile of salt and on the person’s finger. No, not that big one. Look closer: It’s an evolution of IBM’s “crypto anchor” program, which uses a variety of methods to create what amounts to high-tech watermarks for products that verify they’re, for example, from the factory the distributor claims they are, and not counterfeits mixed in with genuine items. The “world’s smallest computer,” as IBM continually refers to it, is meant to bring blockchain capability into this; the security advantages of blockchain-based logistics and tracking could be brought to something as benign as a bottle of wine or box of cereal. A schematic shows the parts (you’ll want to view full size). In addition to getting the computers extra-tiny, IBM intends to make them extra-cheap, perhaps 10 cents apiece. So there’s not much of a lower limit on what types of products could be equipped with the tech. Not only that, but the usual promises of ubiquitous computing also apply: this smart dust could be all over the place, doing little calculations, sensing conditions, connecting with other motes and the internet to allow… well, use your imagination. It’s small (about 1mm x 1mm), but it still has the power of a complete computer, albeit not a hot new one. With a few hundred thousand transistors, a bit of RAM, a solar cell and a communications module, it has about the power of a chip from 1990. And we got a lot done on those, right? Of course at this point it’s very much still a research project in IBM’s labs, not quite a reality; the project is being promoted as part of the company’s “five in five” predictions of turns technology will take in the next five years.

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Teacher in Ghana who used blackboard to explain computers gets some Microsoft love

Teaching kids how to use a computer is hard enough already, since they’re kids, but just try doing it without any computers. That was the task undertaken by Richard Appiah Akoto in Ghana, and his innovative (and labor-intensive) solution was to draw the computer or application on the blackboard in great detail. His hard work went viral and now Microsoft has stepped in to help out . Akoto teaches at Betenase Municipal Assembly Junior High in the small town of Sekyedomase. He had posted pictures of his magnum opus, a stunning rendition of a complete Microsoft Word window, to Facebook. “I love ma students so have to do what will make them understand wat am teaching,” he wrote. He looks harried in the last image of the sequence. The post blew up (9.3K reactions at this point), and Microsoft, which has for years been rather quietly promoting early access to computing and engineering education, took notice. It happened to be just before the company’s Education Exchange in Singapore, and they flew him out. Akoto in Singapore. It was Akoto’s first time outside of Ghana, and at the conference, a gathering of education leaders from around the world, he described his all-too-common dilemma: The only computers available — one belonging to the school and Akoto’s personal laptop — were broken

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Alas, Digg Reader is shutting down at the end of March

After the death — no, let’s not mince words — murder of Google Reader, I tried out a dozen or so other RSS readers to see if I could get a similar experience. Of all the ones I tested, I was very surprised to find that Digg Reader was the best of them all, for my purposes anyway. It was simple, clean, compact, kept up to date, had no weird fluff, no “recommendations” or “trending articles” unless you accidentally visited Digg itself by accident, and since I started using it it has never had any downtime that I’ve noticed. I’ve come to rely on it as much as I did Google Reader in the past few years, so I am sad to see that the service is shutting down in two weeks. You’ll still be able to export your feeds for a while afterwards, though. Digg itself will live on, but the Reader portion is being retired. I understand why — RSS readers aren’t exactly glitzy or profitable, they’re more a public service than anything. At some point a company has to reckon with that and decide whether they want to continue subsidizing a tool used by relics like me instead of whatever most people use, probably Twitter or something. Well, Digg Reader, you were a great tool and I’m sad to leave you. Guess it’s time for me to test out another dozen RSS readers, or maybe bite the bullet and host my own.

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MIT gadget puts multiple artificial organs into a paperback-sized connected system

If you want to see how a proposed drug affects human physiology, your options are limited — and usually you end up using mice, which are in many ways poor analogues. What’s a pharmacologist to do? MIT researchers have a solution: a “body on a chip” that simulates up to 10 interconnected human organs at once using millions of living cells. Anyone can understand the problem, which is simply that mice aren’t humans, and tests on them are necessarily limited. There exist quite a few “organ on a chip” platforms (more properly “microphysiological systems”), and while they’re useful, organs don’t exist in isolation — they’re part of complex systems that vary from person to person. What if you only tested a drug on a bunch of liver cells, but failed to account for the effect of certain byproducts produced by the kidneys? Or what if a byproduct of the drug interferes with some critical process two organs down the line? In case you can’t tell, I am not a medical doctor, but the idea is there: without accounting for these complexities, the testing is incomplete. Say what you will about mice — at least they’re complete organisms. To better simulate the body, MIT researchers created a much more complex platform where researchers can put up to 10 organ tissues in separate compartments, regulating the flow of substances and medications between them in real time. MIT’s news release calls this a “body on a chip,” but in the paper, published today in Science Advances , the researchers demur — they prefer the term microphysiological system, “to avoid the implication that an entire organ system is recapitulated in vitro .” You can call it whatever you want, guys. It’s your thing. (“Physiome on a chip” is another popular option.) It’s nothing new to do this with a handful of tissues, but to have 10 tissues stable for weeks, as the researchers’ paper demonstrates, is unprecedented and represents a huge jump in the capabilities of this kind of system

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