Category Archives: Technology


Now Border patrol can search your cell phone

I’m not sure if it’s because he’s from Southern California—Bikkannavar was born in Pasadena—or because his side hobby, racing solar-powered vehicles, requires a certain amount of calm. Whatever the source, over the course of our 30-minute conversation about his experience being detained by US Customs and Border patrol, his voice betrays frustration only once. And it’s not when he admits—only after I ask him—that this wasn’t the first time.

“When there are random searches, I’ll often get pulled into the random search,” said Bikkannavar. “That doesn’t offend me. I know they need to search people and if it’s me, it’s me. You know, I know I have a foreign sounding name, I know my skin is a little darker, so if it makes me more likely to be searched so be it. I’ve really never taken issue with that or been offended by that.”

“But what happened this time,” he adds, “was different.”

Losing His Chill

What frustrated Bikkannavar, a self-described pretty private person, enough to make him talk to the press was this: “I’ve now compromised the privacy of my friends, and family, colleagues, contacts—anyone whose digital life kind of touched my phone.”

How did Bikkannavar betray his friends and family? He left the United States. Or, to be more precise, he returned.

The same weekend that President Trump signed an executive order restricting travel from certain countries, Bikkannavar arrived at the United States border in Houston, Texas. He’d spent two weeks racing cars down in the Patagonia Region of Chile. Chile was not on the list of countries outlined in the executive order, but even if it was Bikkannavar wouldn’t have automatically qualified for extra scrutiny.

To begin with, Bikkannavar is an American citizen. His father is of Indian descent, hence his name, but on his mother’s side his family has lived in the United States since colonial days. In fact, his grandparents worked at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) just like Bikkannavar does now.

“When we’re working with spacecraft,” said Bikkannavar, “we’re working with equipment that costs maybe billions of dollars or is highly dangerous, so there is a process to make sure that we are trustworthy and safe.”

JPL is part of NASA, but in addition to rocketry it does a significant amount of work for the Department of Defense. As a result, even low level employees at JPL undergo a background check invasive enough that employees once sued to stop it..

But even if Bikkannavar didn’t work for JPL, there’s still the fact that he forked over $100 and underwent a background check to qualify for Global Entry—the “U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) program that allows expedited clearance for pre-approved, low-risk travelers upon arrival in the United States.”

Despite a level of vetting that some might even call extreme, Bikkannavar was still detained and placed in a holding room at Customs and Border Patrol.

“There were some people asleep [in the room]. I arrived at 5am in the morning, so I’m assuming that those people who were in there sleeping on the recliners and the cots had already been there stranded,” said Bikkanavar. “Eventually I get called into an interview room and they explain to me that because I’m trying to enter the country they need to search my property to make sure that I’m not bringing anything dangerous in. And they gave me a slip of paper that explains their rights to do all of this stuff.”

That stuff included searching his phone. After hesitating, and explaining that the phone was his work phone, he complied.

“As soon as I gave them the PIN they sort of pulled the phone back, wrote down the pin, and left with my phone,” said Bikkannavar. “They returned me to the waiting area with all of my luggage, and they didn’t search any of that. They didn’t swab it for bomb stuff, they didn’t even open it. They didn’t check what was in my pockets. They were only interested in the phone.”

 If they had gone through Bikkannavar’s luggage, that would have violated his privacy. But going through his phone? That violated the privacy of anyone who had texted, messaged, or otherwise contacted him since the last time he’d wiped the device.

“Not only is the privacy of the free speech rights of the device holder at stake,” said Sophia Cope, a staff attorney with the Electronic Freedom Foundation, “but also that of all of their associates.”

This may include people who have never set foot near a border, people who have never set foot in this country. That it’s considered a privacy issue is obvious—how happy would you be to have strangers flipping through your cell phone for no reason? But it’s also considered a free speech issue, because many argue that there’s no such thing as free speech without privacy. If your thoughts and words are closely monitored by the government, can you really consider yourself free?

“Free speech and privacy are considered human rights in international law,” said Cope, “So there’s that issue of whether or not the US is going to uphold those international principles.”

 If you’re wondering if this is legal, you’re not alone.

In theory, the fourth amendment of the US Constitution (which begins, “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects,against unreasonable searches and seizures…”) sounds like it protects us from, well, unreasonable searches and seizures.

“But the law,” said Cope, “is unfortunately fuzzy.”

Here’s what’s clear: within the United States, the fourth amendment prohibits unreasonable search and seizure. Pretty much every procedural court drama gets this part right. A government entity shows up in court, presents evidence that there was probably a crime, and that searching the item in question will confirm it. If the judge thinks that the evidence supports a reasonably high chance—say 60-70 percent—of criminal activity she will issue a search warrant. A warrant isn’t a carte blanche though. It’s “particularized” to the crime. If they’re searching your phone looking for a terrorist threat and discover that you’ve illegally downloaded the Rolling Stone’s entire back catalog, that’s a separate issue.

But there is some wiggle room.

If a police officer sees you stuff a pile of crisply-bound $100 bills into a duffel as you run out of a bank that’s sounding its alarm, that’s enough probable cause to seize you—i.e. arrest you. Checkpoints like the kind used to check for drunk drivers are another exception. After all, everyone gets checked whether or not the police officers suspect them of being drunk. The Supreme Court rules this is ok because the scope is narrow and it’s in the broader public interest.

“At the border,” said Cope, “the Supreme Court says there’s a discrete interest in protecting the welfare and the safety of our nation.”

Basically, it’s in the national interest to make sure that we pay duties on the $3,000-dollar bottle of wine we picked up in Italy, that we don’t secretly bring in seeds that pose a threat to the American farm industry or drugs and weapons that pose a risk to the American people. So the Supreme Court ruled that routine searches at the border are permitted, even without a warrant or probable cause. This decision was made, however, before we were carrying around computers, never mind ones that contain the level of information contained in a smartphone.

“The problem now,” said Cope, “is that a piece of luggage Is nowhere near that type of personal information, sensitive information. Even if you have a diary or some sexy photos in your luggage that still does not equate to what is essentially your entire life, particularly on your smartphone.”

The decision also doesn’t take into consideration the fact with cell phones, it’s not just the person who crosses the border whose information is being searched and potentially cataloged, but anyone who has communicated with that person. It’s this that compelled Bikkannavar to speak out, and a thought that should give us all pause.

It’s also an act that chills speech. How freely would you speak (or text) if you knew all of your communications were being observed? You don’t even have to work very hard to see the difference—compare your text and email conversations to your public social media posts.

The directive that guides U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) electronic seizure rules dates back to 2009—it’s called CBP Directive No. 3340-049. It was only released because of a Freedom of Information Act, or public disclosure request. And while lawsuits in recent years suggest that there have been policy changes, those changes have not been disclosed to the public. That makes it awfully difficult for citizens to know their rights.

In 2009, the year of CBPs publicly available guidelines, the iPhone was 2 years old. Most of us were using blackberries or a flip phone, and apps were few and mostly entertainment based. Now our phones contain personal photos, banking information, inside jokes…the shape and breadth of our lives. We are expected to entrust that information—without cause—to a department that, according to the The New York Times, recently found that over 10 years almost 200 employees and contract workers had taken nearly $15 million dollars in bribes. In 2015 police officers found 110 pounds of cocaine in a US Border Patrol agent’s car. One could be rightly concerned as to what an agent might do if they had access to banking information, blackmail fodder, or proprietary info from a border crosser’s business life.

The policy as disclosed says that they can only search—not copy or hold onto the device—unless they see evidence of a crime.

“But we were hearing reports at the border of CBP officers writing down like names of people from contact lists and stuff,” said Cope. And in Bikkannavar’s case the phone was taken out of the room, making it impossible to know whether the contents were copied.

To be clear, what’s happening isn’t new. There are reports Customs and Border Patrol searching laptops and phones dating back to 2008. Hard data on searches is difficult to find (and PopSci will update if it becomes available), but anecdotes suggest that it is becoming more frequent.

And Cope argues that even one person is too many. Especially when you consider how many people are in your contact list.

Protecting Yourself

The natural question, is how can we protect our information at the border?

Since technology, in part, created this problem, it can be tempting to turn to technology to resolve it. For example, it’s possible to partition a laptop’s hard drive to boot one way with one passcode and another way with a different one.

“You have to be careful,” said Scope. “If there is evidence that you are lying or misleading a government agent, that is itself a crime.”

At minimum, you should practice basic digital security: enable two factor authentication on your social media accounts. Disable any biometric locks—fingerprint locks in particular area notoriously easy to forge, and it’s not hard for a CPB agent to simply press your finger against your phone to make it unlock. Enable hard disk encryption.

None of that matters, however, if you unlock your device for an agent.

American citizens traveling to the United States have the right to return. You can’t be denied entry into your own country. So you can simply refuse to comply—though you do risk them taking the device.

Increasingly, customs and border patrol agents have been asking people—primarily foreign nationals—for the passwords to their cloud accounts. Americans don’t have to comply, and Americans do have the right to an attorney—but foreign nationals have less of a choice.

Bikkannavar said that the interaction between he and the CBP agents was unfailingly polite on both sides, but the situation itself intimidating, in part, because he didn’t really know his rights. So before you travel, make sure you know yours.

Cope suggests literally wiping the device before you’re forced to hand it over. Or, if you’re an American citizen, encrypting the device in the strongest way possible and refusing to comply. They might take the device away, but at least you’ll know they (probably) can’t get at your information.


This Watch a snake robot wriggle

A snake is a tube that eats, a wriggling cylinder that carries a stomach and not much else. So it was a natural inspiration for Eelume AS, a Norwegian underwater robotics company, when they needed to design an efficient, minimalist robot. They decided to replicate a snake’s bendy body, creating a compact form adorned only with small sideboard motors and cameras.

Here’s what that looks like in practice:

We first saw the Eelume remotely operated vehicle last year, when aprototype writhed around obstacles in a testing tank. Today, Eelume released the first footage of a robot undergoing trials in ocean water, at the PREZIOSO Linjebygg Subsea Test Center in the Trondheimsfjord. With a face full of lights and cameras, and a flexible body carrying engines and side-facing cameras, the Eelume looks like quite the minimalist submarine.

Unlike snakes, the Eelume has a modular structure. That lets users attach various tools to its front end, adding or subtracting engines, cameras, joint sections, and other tools. People can also reconfigure the robot at different lengths for different functions.

Once outfitted, the robots can settle into their watery home: Eelume AS designed them to stay underwater permanently, in a little docking station on the bottom of the sea. From there, they can swim out to inspect and repair undersea infrastructure, like pipelines or oil rigs, without any concern about the weather above the ocean’s surface.


Info Robotic food delivery is rolling into the United States

Starship Technologies, co-founded by Ahti Heinla and Janus Friis of Skype fame, raised $17.2 million in January to build a fleet of six-wheeled delivery robots. More feasible for large-scale rollouts than drones, these delivery bots are scheduled to have their American debut in Washington, D.C. and Redwood City, California in early February.

On test day, the Starship company will have an employee walking behind the bot—which is basically a secured container box rolling along at 4 mph—to deal with unexpected incidents and too-curious pedestrians, according toCNN Money. For the lucky crowds who are going to live-tweet this scene, the spectacle may bear resemblance to a parent following their toddler as it learns how to walk, the parent ready to save the little tyke from tripping and crying.


Evan Long via flickr

Mom with her walking baby

Will a robot learning its route to your doorsteps be cuter than this toddler?

The company’s first two U.S. customers will be Postmates and DoorDash, but their product is already pretty street savvy. The Starship baby has already been tested in the U.K., Germany, and Switzerland, where it has delivered food orders, groceries, and parcels. As of November 2016, the bot had over 12,000 miles under its belt (or under its wheels, if you will).

Despite its 4 mph speed, the robot actually sounds pretty high-tech, according to an Ars Technica story from late 2016. It has “nine cameras, a 360-degree ultrasonic sensor array, and an Nvidia Tegra K1 processor” to take in its surroundings, map the environment and avoid obstacles. And its navigation system is reportedly more precise (by 1.5 meters) than “the best non-military GPS receivers” out there.


Starship Technologies

Bot meets runners on street

If you are in D.C. or Redwood City, you may run into a Starship delivery robot on an urban jogging trip—and easily outrun it.

Starship isn’t the world’s only attempt at automated food delivery, and the competing bots are already having playful rivalries. When Domino’s Pizzalaunched its self-driving, four-wheeled bot in Australia last spring, Starship’s official Twitter advised its buddy DRU (Domino’s Robotic Unit) to seriously consider losing some weight:

DRU weighs 419 lbs. Starship? 35 lbs. But DRU’s extra heft helps give it more power, allowing it to zip along at a cool 12 mph—three times faster than Starship.

Ubiquitous robot delivery is probably a long way off. Starship’s current robots can only carry 20 pound loads within a 3-mile radius. As Postmates’ senior vice president of business Holger Luedorf put it, the upcoming test is part of a learning process. The company will analyze data like delivery time, delivery quality rated by customers, and feedback from merchants to determine whether they want to pursue this ground-based robot delivery strategy on a grander scale.

Customers won’t be asked to shell out extra for the privilege of a robotic delivery—at least for now. “We are treating these robots just like any other Postmates carrier,” Luedorf says.


Wow cheap and easy lab-on-a-chip could save lives

From detecting breast cancer to screening for HIV, surviving serious disease depends on early detection. When regular testing isn’t available, lives are lost. But early detection often requires expensive lab equipment, and specialty training that isn’t easily common in many parts of the world. According to the World Health Organization, breast cancer—the most common cancer in women—has a survival rate that’s roughly twice as high in high-income nations as it is in low-income countries.

“It basically emphasized that we needed to have access to early diagnostic tools,” said Rahim Esfandyarpour, an engineering associate at the Stanford Technology Center.

So Esfandyarpour and a team of researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine endeavored to do something about it. They’ve developed a diagnostic ‘lab-on-a-chip’ that can be manufactured on the cheap and produced with your run-of-the-mill inkjet printer.

A lab-on-a-chip is a device that integrates multiple laboratory functions—such as DNA analysis—onto a single chip spanning a few millimeters to a few centimeters in size. Like a microchip, it’s an integrated circuit—though Esfandyarpour’s is designed to assess and analyze bodily fluids, not make mathematical calculations.

The concept of a lab-on-a-chip isn’t new. Researchers have been working to shrink complex laboratory processes for more than 20 years.

“But designing the diagnoses platform for the developing world requires different considerations,” said Esfandyarpour.

First, it should be easy to use without much experience, since rural clinics might be short on staff members with extensive medical training. It should be adaptable, capable of testing for more than one disease. And finally, it should be cheap to account for the scant funding and modest public health infrastructure in some developing countries.


Zahra Koochak/Stanford University

Rahim Esfandyarpour holds the electronic strip he helped to design.

To achieve this, Esfandyarpour and his team developed a two-part system. The first is a clear, silicone microfluidic chamber. The chamber is a clear sheet in which small amounts of the test sample (blood or other cells) are placed. In other lab-on-a-chip contraptions, the silicon chip is etched with designs. In Esdandyarpour’s version the chip is left blank. That’s where the second part of the system comes in: using nanoparticle ink, healthcare workers imprint a circuit design onto a piece of flexible plastic that costs as a little as a penny. Nanoparticle ink might sound fancy, but it’s often found incircuit drawing kits designed for children.

When the silicone chamber is placed atop the plastic strip and an electrical field is applied to the printed circuit, cells located in the microfluid chamber get pulled in different directions depending on their “polarizability”—their ability to separate out into positive and negative charges.

Precisely how the cells behave depends on the kinds of cells placed in the chamber—cancer cells, for example, behave differently than healthy cells—and on what design is printed onto the electronic strip. So for example, one strip design could screen for breast cancer, while another detected AIDS. Technicians wouldn’t necessarily need to create the designs themselves. If the idea takes off, they could just print previously-created designs via an existing template. And because the system is contactless, each electronic strip can be reused. In addition to clinical applications in poor nations, the chip also frees researchers with tighter budgets to experiment.

“It gives you the freedom to not only use it for diagnosis, but for basic and applied research as well,” said Esfandyarpour.


The Drones Will Fly People Around Dubai

Commercial drones just got a big upgrade: A fleet of passenger-carrying quadcopters could be flying around the city of Dubai by this summer, according to news reports.

The city’s new transportation option is an egg-shaped, single-passengerdrone in the traditional quadcopter style seen in many commercial drones, the Associated Press reported. The Chinese-made Ehang 184 can carry one passenger weighing up to 220 lbs. (100 kilograms) and a small suitcase, according to the AP.

Mattar Al Tayer, head of Dubai’s Roads and Transport Authority, said during the World Government Summit this week that the city plans to have the drone regularly traversing the city’s skies in July.

“This is not only a model,” Al Tayer told the AP. “We have actually experimented with this vehicle flying in Dubai’s skies.”

The drone was unveiled in a flight over Dubai’s Burj Al Arab, the sail-shaped luxury hotel that is the fourth-tallest hotel in the world, the AP reported.

Once the passenger is buckled in and selects a destination, the drone automatically flies off. A control room will monitor the drones remotely via 4G mobile internet, according to the AP. With a battery that lasts for up to 30 minutes of flight and a range of up to about 30 miles (50 kilometers), the passenger-carrying drone can offer commuters an alternative to Dubai’s notorious traffic. Though the drone can reach up to 100 mph (160 km/h), authorities said the drone’s average operating speed will be about 60 mph (100 km/h), the AP reported.

Passenger-carrying drones are just the latest step in Dubai’s vision for a technologically advanced transportation future. In April, the AP reportedabout United Arab Emirates Vice President and Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum’s announcement that 25 percent of Dubai’s commuters will be carried by driverless vehicles in 2030.

Following up on that claim, the city agreed to study the potential implementation of a “Hyperloop,” a transportation system first envisioned by SpaceX and Tesla founder Elon Musk, according to the AP. In theory, the Hyperloop would move levitating pods through low-friction pipes to transport people at speeds as fast as 760 mph (1,220 km/h). For this project, Dubai partnered with Los Angeles-based Hyperloop One, which is not affiliated with Musk or his companies, to assess the possiblity of using a Hyperloop system to connect Dubai with Abu Dhabi.


This 7 Technology Trends That Will Dominate

Personally, I’m amazed at the technology we have available to us. It’s astounding to have the power to retrieve almost any information and communicate in a thousand different ways using a device that fits in your pocket.

There’s always something new on the horizon, and we can’t help but wait and wonder what technological marvels are coming next.

The way I see it, there are seven major tech trends we’re in store for in 2017. If you’re eyeing a sector in which to start a business, any of these is a pretty good bet. If you’re already an entrepreneur, think about how you can leverage these technologies to reach your target audience in new ways.

1. IoT and Smart Home Tech.

We’ve been hearing about the forthcoming revolution of the Internet-of-Things (IoT) and resulting interconnectedness of smart home technology for years. So what’s the holdup? Why aren’t we all living in smart, connected homes by now? Part of the problem is too much competition, with not enough collaboration—there are tons of individual appliances and apps on the market, but few solutions to tie everything together into a single, seamless user experience. Now that bigger companies already well-versed in uniform user experiences (like Google, Amazon, and Apple) are getting involved, I expect we’ll see some major advancements on this front in the coming year.

2. AR and VR.

We’ve already seen some major steps forward for augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) technology in 2016. Oculus Rift was released, to positive reception, and thousands of VR apps and games followed. We also saw Pokémon Go, an AR game, explode with over 100 million downloads. The market is ready for AR and VR, and we’ve already got some early-stage devices and tech for these applications, but it’s going to be next year before we see things really take off. Once they do, you’ll need to be ready for AR and VR versions of practically everything—and ample marketing opportunities to follow.

3. Machine Learning.

Machine learning has taken some massive strides forward in the past few years, even emerging to assist and enhance Google’s core search engine algorithm. But again, we’ve only seen it in a limited range of applications. Throughout 2017, I expect to see machine learning updates emerge across the board, entering almost any type of consumer application you can think of, from offering better recommended products based on prior purchase history to gradually improving the user experience of an analytics app. It won’t be long before machine learning becomes a kind of “new normal,” with people expecting this type of artificial intelligence as a component of every form of technology.

4. Automation.

Marketers will be (mostly) pleased to learn that automation will become a bigger mainstay in and throughout 2017, with advanced technology enabling the automation of previously human-exclusive tasks. We’ve had robotic journalists in circulation for a couple of years now, and I expect it won’t be long before they make another leap into more practical types of articles. It’s likely that we’ll start seeing productivity skyrocket in a number of white-collar type jobs—and we’ll start seeing some jobs disappear altogether. When automation is combined with machine learning, everything can improve even faster, so 2017 has the potential to be a truly landmark year.

5. Humanized Big Data. (visual, empathetic, qualitative)

Big data has been a big topic for the past five years or so, when it started making headlines as a buzzword. The idea is that mass quantities of gathered data—which we now have access to—can help us in everything from planning better medical treatments to executing better marketing campaigns. But big data’s greatest strength—its quantitative, numerical foundation—is also a weakness. In 2017, I expect we’ll see advancements to humanize big data, seeking more empathetic and qualitative bits of data and projecting it in a more visualized, accessible way.

6. Physical-Digital Integrations.

Mobile devices have been slowly adding technology into our daily lives. It’s rare to see anyone without a smartphone at any given time, giving us access to practically infinite information in the real-world. We already have things like site-to-store purchasing, enabling online customers to buy and pick up products in a physical retail location, but the next level will be even further integrations between physical and digital realities. Online brands like Amazon will start having more physical products, like Dash Buttons, and physical brands like Walmart will start having more digital features, like store maps and product trials.

7. Everything On-Demand.

Thanks to brands like Uber (and the resulting madness of startups built on the premise of being the “Uber of ____”), people are getting used to having everything on demand via phone apps. In 2017, I expect this to see this develop even further. We have thousands of apps available to us to get rides, food deliveries, and even a place to stay for the night, but soon we’ll see this evolve into even stranger territory.

Anyone in the tech industry knows that making predictions about the course of technology’s future, even a year out, is an exercise in futility. Surprises can come from a number of different directions, and announced developments rarely release as they’re intended.

Still, it pays to forecast what’s coming next so you can prepare your marketing strategies (or your budget) accordingly. Whatever the case may be, it’s still fun to think about everything that’s coming next.


The Cybersecurity Be a Human

Having access to the internet is increasingly considered to be an emerging human right. International organizations and national governments have begun to formally recognize its importance to freedom of speech, expression and information exchange. The next step to help ensure some measure of cyber peace online may be for cybersecurity to be recognized as a human right, too.

The United Nations has taken note of the crucial role of internet connectivity in “the struggle for human rights.” United Nations officials have decried the actions of governments cutting off internet access as denying their citizens’ rights to free expression.

But access is not enough. Those of us who have regular internet access often suffer from cyber-fatigue: We’re all simultaneously expecting our data to be hacked at any moment and feeling powerless to prevent it. Late last year, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, an online rights advocacy group, called for technology companies to “unite in defense of users,” securing their systems against intrusion by hackers as well as government surveillance.

It’s time to rethink how we understand the cybersecurity of digital communications. One of the U.N.’s leading champions of free expression,international law expert David Kaye, in 2015 called for “the encryption of private communications to be made a standard.” These and other developments in the international and business communities are signaling what could be early phases of declaring cybersecurity to be a human right that governments, companies and individuals should work to protect.

The idea of internet access as a human right is not without controversy. No less an authority than Vinton Cerf, a “father of the internet,” has argued that technology itself is not a right, but a means through which rights can be exercised.

All the same, more and more nations have declared their citizens’ right to internet access. Spain, France, Finland, Costa Rica, Estonia and Greece have codified this right in a variety of ways, including in their constitutions, laws and judicial rulings.

A former head of the U.N.’s global telecommunications governing bodyhas argued that governments must “regard the internet as basic infrastructure – just like roads, waste and water.” Global public opinionseems to overwhelmingly agree.

Cerf’s argument may, in fact, strengthen the case for cybersecurity as a human right – ensuring that technology enables people to exercise their rights to privacy and free communication.

Current international human rights law includes many principles that apply to cybersecurity. For example, Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights includes protections of freedom of speech, communication and access to information. Similarly, Article 3 states “Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.” Butenforcing these rights is difficult under international law. As a result, many countries ignore the rules.

There is cause for hope, though. As far back as 2011, the U.N.’s High Commission for Human Rights said that human rights are equally valid online as offline. Protecting people’s privacy is no less important when handling paper documents, for instance, than when dealing with digital correspondence. The U.N.’s Human Rights Council reinforced that stancein 2012, 2014 and 2016.

In 2013, the U.N. General Assembly itself – the organization’s overall governing body, comprising representatives from all member nations – voted to confirm people’s “right to privacy in the digital age.” Passed in the wake of revelations about U.S. electronic spying around the globe, the document further endorsed the importance of protecting privacy and freedom of expression online. And in November 2015, the G-20, a group of nations with some of the world’s largest economies, similarly endorsed privacy, “including in the context of digital communications.”

Simply put, the obligation to protect these rights involves developing new cybersecurity policies, such as encrypting all communications and discarding old and unneeded data, rather than keeping it around indefinitely. More firms are using the U.N.’s Guiding Principles to help inform their business decision-making to promote human rights due diligence. They are also using U.S. government recommendations, in the form of the National Institute for Standards and Technology Cybersecurity Framework, to help determine how best to protect their data and that of their customers.

In time, the tide will likely strengthen. Internet access will become more widely recognized as a human right – and following in its wake may well be cybersecurity. As people use online services more in their daily lives, their expectations of digital privacy and freedom of expression will lead them to demand better protections.

Governments will respond by building on the foundations of existing international law, formally extending into cyberspace the human rights to privacy, freedom of expression and improved economic well-being. Now is the time for businesses, governments and individuals to prepare for this development by incorporating cybersecurity as a fundamental ethical consideration in telecommunications, data storage, corporate social responsibility and enterprise risk management.


Cyborg In Future

How can humans stay relevant in an age of artificial intelligence? Elon Musk thinks cyborgs are the answer.

The Tesla and SpaceX CEO discussed the need for a “merger of biological intelligence and digital intelligence” during a talk today (Feb. 13) at the World Government Summit in Dubai, CNBC reported.

One of the main advantages computers have over humans is the speed at which they can send out information, Musk said. While humans are limited by the the speed of theirtyping, a computer can send out information at “a trillion bits per second,” Musk said. As artificial intelligence (AI) becomes more advanced, humans will also need to evolve to remain relevant, he added.

“Some high-bandwidth interface to the brain will be something that helps achieve a symbiosis between human and machine intelligence, and maybe solves the control problem and the usefulness problem,” Musk said of the need for humans to merge their minds with computers, according to CNBC.

Musk has previously discussed a system that could link human brains to a computer interface. This so-called “neural lace” concept, which would add a digital layer of intelligence to the human brain, was first mentioned at Recode’s Code Conference last year. Since introducing the idea, Musk has hinted at the interface’s progress and has further discussed his views on an artificially intelligent future.

Musk has also expressed his fear of “deep AI,” explaining that an artificial general intelligence would be “smarter than the smartest human on Earth.” Though this technology is not an immediate threat, Musk said the combination of human brains with machine intelligence will ensure humanity’s continued relevance.

However, one aspect of AI that is an immediate threat is the displacement of jobs, Musk said. During the World Government Summit talk, Musk specifically noted that with autonomous cars, an industry in which Tesla is a leader, AI will displace people in driving-focused positions such as truck drivers, delivery drivers and taxi drivers.

“The most near-term impact from a technology standpoint is autonomous cars,” Musk said at the Summit, according to CNBC. “But there are many people whose jobs are to drive. In fact, I think it might be the single largest employer of people … driving in various forms.”

Musk estimated that 12 to 15 percent of the global workforce will be out of a job once autonomous vehicles AI take over driving duties, CNBC reported.


See-Through Robot Grab a Live Goldfish

Squishy, nearly transparent robots that flap, squeeze and kick when pumped with water could be the next underwater spies, at least when it comes to sneaking up on aquatic life.

In a robotic test, one of these jelly-like machines was quick enough to grab and release a goldfish, a team at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology found.

The researchers, led by engineer Xuanhe Zhao and graduate student Hyunwoo Yuk, created a series of the transparent robots from a rubbery material called hydrogel, including a fin-like bot that can flap back and forth, a “limb” that can kick, and a hand-shaped structure that can squeeze and let go.

Because the material is composed mostly of water, the resulting robotscould also have biomedical applications, the researchers said.

“Hydrogels are soft, wet, biocompatible and can form more friendly interfaces with human organs,” Zhao, an associate professor of mechanical engineering and civil and environmental engineering, said in a statement. He added that the group is collaborating with medical scientists to create soft “hands,” which could aid in delicately manipulating tissues and organs during surgeries.

For five years, Zhao’s team worked to whip up various hydrogel mixes, made from polymers and water, to find one that was tough and stretchable. They also developed processes to attach, or glue, the hydrogels to an array of surfaces, such as glass, metal and rubber.

Zhao noted that others have tried to craft soft robotics from hydrogels, but their materials were brittle and not very flexible, resulting in cracks after repeated use.

When brainstorming ways to create soft robots from their hydrogels, the researchers looked to nature, particularly at glass eels; these tiny, transparent larvae are soft like hydrogels and manage to migrate unscathed over long distances to their riverine habitats.

“It is extremely long travel, and there is no means of protection,” Yuk said in the statement. “It seems they tried to evolve into a transparent form as an efficient camouflage tactic. And we wanted to achieve a similar level of transparency, force and speed.”

So the team got to work. They used 3D printing and laser-cutting techniques to create hollow components of robots. Then, they attached these units to small, rubbery tubes connected to pumps.

Depending on the overall shape of each robot, when water was pumped in, it would quickly produce forceful motions, such as curling up or stretching out.

In one test, Zhao’s team pumped water into and out of the “fingers” of a hand-like robot while submerging it in a goldfish tank. The grasper closed delicately around the fish, the researchers said.

“[The robot] is almost transparent, very hard to see,” Zhao said in the statement. “When you release the fish, it’s quite happy because [the robot] is soft and doesn’t damage the fish. Imagine a hard robotic hand would probably squash the fish.”

The team is now dreaming up various applications for the hydrogel robots, while also playing around with the hydrogel recipe to customize it for particular uses; a robot used in the medical field, for instance, may not need to be completely transparent, while another application might require a stiffer hydrogel, they said.

“We want to pinpoint a realistic application and optimize the material to achieve something impactful,” Yuk said. “To our best knowledge, this is the first demonstration of hydrogel pressure-based actuation. We are now tossing this concept out as an open question, to say, ‘Let’s play with this.'”

Their research — funded in part by the Office of Naval Research, the MIT Institute for Soldier Nanotechnologies and the National Science Foundation — was published online Feb. 1 in the journal Nature Communications.

Other co-authors of the paper included MIT scientists Shaoting Lin, Chu Ma and Mahdi Takaffoli, as well as Nicholas X. Fang, an associate professor of mechanical engineering at MIT.


The Exosuit Fabric Could Boost Mobility

Knitting and weaving artificial muscles could help create soft exoskeletons that people with disabilities could wear under their clothes to help them walk, according to new research.

Textile processing is one of humanity’s oldest technologies, but in recent years there has been renewed interest in using it to create “smart” textiles that can do everything from harvest power from the environment to monitor our health.

Now, Swedish researchers have created actuators — devices that convert energy into motion — from cellulose yarn coated with a polymer that reacts to electricity. These fibers were then woven and knitted using standard industrial machines to create textile actuators, dubbed “textuators” by the researchers.

Exoskeletons can be used to boost humans’ weight-lifting abilities or help the disabled walk, but they rely on electric motors or pneumatic systems that are bulky, noisy and stiff. The researchers say their approach could one day help mass-produce soft and silent exoskeletons using textile-processing technology, as well as actuators for soft robotics.

“Our dream is suits you can wear under your clothing — hidden exoskeletons to help the elderly, help those recovering from injury, maybe one day make disabled people walk again,” said Edwin Jager, an associate professor in applied physics at Linköping University in Sweden, who led the research.

The team started with cellulose yarn, which is biocompatible and renewable, and knitted and weaved it into a variety of textiles. These textiles were then coated with a conducting polymer called polypyrrole (PPy) using a process similar to how commercial fabrics are dyed.

PPy has been widely used to create soft actuators because it changes its size when a low voltage is applied to it, thanks to ions and solvents moving in and out of the polymer matrix. As this material coats the fiber, it contracts when a positive voltage is applied and expands when a negative voltage is applied.

In a new study published online today (Jan. 25) in the journal Science Advances, the researchers found that weaving the fabric resulted in a textuator that produced high force, while knitting resulted in less force but an extremely stretchy material.

By varying the processing method and the weaving or knitting pattern, Jager told Live Science it should be possible to tailor the force and strain characteristics of a textuator to the specific application at hand. To demonstrate the capabilities of the approach, the scientists integrated a knitted fabric into a Lego lever arm and it was able to lift 0.07 ounces (2 grams) of weight.

Xing Fan, an associate professor of chemical engineering at Chongqing University in China, who also works on smart textiles, told Live Science the research was an interesting step toward commercially viable smart textile actuators, but added that there are still some issues to be overcome.

At present, the material still needs to be submerged in a liquid electrolyte, which serves as a source of ions for the PPy. The material also responds much more slowly than mammalian muscle, taking minutes to fully expand or contract.

“Nevertheless, I believe that after years of improvement, the day that a feasible smart textile actuator appears on the desk of a commercial investor is not far away,” Fan told Live Science.

Jager said his group is already designing a second generation of textuators that will address these issues. Decreasing response time is simply a matter of reducing the diameter of the yarn to a few micrometers he said, which commercially available textile-processing machines are capable of doing. The researchers are also working on ways to embed the electrolyte in the fabric so that it can operate in air.

The group chose to work with PPy because it was a material they were familiar with, but a limitation is that achieving high force requires thick yarns, which slows response times. Jager said a key innovation was demonstrating that organizing multiple yarns in parallel — just like muscle fibers — was able to increase force without increasing response times.

“We don’t see ourselves locked to this material, though; it’s more a way of showing that we can use textiles with smart materials to create textuators,” he said. “I’m not sure if ours is the best material, but hopefully, people who find better materials will be inspired and use this technique of ours as a starting point and improve from it.”