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  • What Happens To Society When Robots Replace Workers?

    Paul Fernhout writes: An article in the Harvard Business Review by William H. Davidow and Michael S. Malone suggests: "The "Second Economy" (the term used by economist Brian Arthur to describe the portion of the economy where computers transact business only with other computers) is upon us. It is, quite simply, the virtual economy, and one of its main byproducts is the replacement of workers with intelligent machines powered by sophisticated code. ... This is why we will soon be looking at hordes of citizens of zero economic value. Figuring out how to deal with the impacts of this development will be the greatest challenge facing free market economies in this century. ... Ultimately, we need a new, individualized, cultural, approach to the meaning of work and the purpose of life. Otherwise, people will find a solution — human beings always do — but it may not be the one for which we began this technological revolution."

    This follows the recent Slashdot discussion of "Economists Say Newest AI Technology Destroys More Jobs Than It Creates" citing a NY Times article and other previous discussions like Humans Need Not Apply. What is most interesting to me about this HBR article is not the article itself so much as the fact that concerns about the economic implications of robotics, AI, and automation are now making it into the Harvard Business Review. These issues have been otherwise discussed by alternative economists for decades, such as in the Triple Revolution Memorandum from 1964 — even as those projections have been slow to play out, with automation's initial effect being more to hold down wages and concentrate wealth rather than to displace most workers. However, they may be reaching the point where these effects have become hard to deny despite going against mainstream theory which assumes infinite demand and broad distribution of purchasing power via wages.

    As to possible solutions, there is a mention in the HBR article of using government planning by creating public works like infrastructure investments to help address the issue. There is no mention in the article of expanding the "basic income" of Social Security currently only received by older people in the U.S., expanding the gift economy as represented by GNU/Linux, or improving local subsistence production using, say, 3D printing and gardening robots like Dewey of "Silent Running." So, it seems like the mainstream economics profession is starting to accept the emerging reality of this increasingly urgent issue, but is still struggling to think outside an exchange-oriented box for socioeconomic solutions. A few years ago, I collected dozens of possible good and bad solutions related to this issue. Like Davidow and Malone, I'd agree that the particular mix we end up will be a reflection of our culture. Personally, I feel that if we are heading for a technological "singularity" of some sort, we would be better off improving various aspects of our society first, since our trajectory going out of any singularity may have a lot to do with our trajectory going into it.

    569 comments | 2 days ago

  • Researchers Discover SS7 Flaw, Allowing Total Access To Any Cell Phone, Anywhere

    krakman writes: Researchers discovered security flaws in SS7 that allow listening to private phone calls and intercepting text messages on a potentially massive scale – even when cellular networks are using the most advanced encryption now available. The flaws, to be reported at a hacker conference in Hamburg this month, are actually functions built into SS7 for other purposes – such as keeping calls connected as users speed down highways, switching from cell tower to cell tower – that hackers can repurpose for surveillance because of the lax security on the network. It is thought that these flaws were used for bugging German Chancellor Angela's Merkel's phone.

    Those skilled at the housekeeping functions built into SS7 can locate callers anywhere in the world, listen to calls as they happen or record hundreds of encrypted calls and texts at a time for later decryption (Google translation of German original). There is also potential to defraud users and cellular carriers by using SS7 functions, the researchers say. This is another result of security being considered only after the fact, as opposed to being part of the initial design.

    88 comments | 3 days ago

  • Scientists Discover That Exercise Changes Your DNA

    HughPickens.com writes The human genome is astonishingly complex and dynamic, with genes constantly turning on or off, depending on what biochemical signals they receive from the body. Scientists have known that certain genes become active or quieter as a result of exercise but they hadn't understood how those genes knew how to respond to exercise. Now the NYT reports that scientists at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm have completed a study where they recruited 23 young and healthy men and women, brought them to the lab for a series of physical performance and medical tests, including a muscle biopsy, and then asked them to exercise half of their lower bodies for three months. The volunteers pedaled one-legged at a moderate pace for 45 minutes, four times per week for three months. Then the scientists repeated the muscle biopsies and other tests with each volunteer. Not surprisingly, the volunteers' exercised leg was more powerful now than the other, showing that the exercise had resulted in physical improvements. But there were also changes within the exercised muscle cells' DNA. Using technology that analyses 480,000 positions throughout the genome, they could see that new methylation patterns had taken place in 7,000 genes (an individual has 20–25,000 genes).

    In a process known as DNA methylation, clusters of atoms, called methyl groups, attach to the outside of a gene like microscopic mollusks and make the gene more or less able to receive and respond to biochemical signals from the body. In the exercised portions of the bodies, many of the methylation changes were on portions of the genome known as enhancers that can amplify the expression of proteins by genes. And gene expression was noticeably increased or changed in thousands of the muscle-cell genes that the researchers studied. Most of the genes in question are known to play a role in energy metabolism, insulin response and inflammation within muscles. In other words, they affect how healthy and fit our muscles — and bodies — become. Many mysteries still remain but the message of the study is unambiguous. "Through endurance training — a lifestyle change that is easily available for most people and doesn't cost much money," says Sara Lindholm, "we can induce changes that affect how we use our genes and, through that, get healthier and more functional muscles that ultimately improve our quality of life."

    56 comments | 3 days ago

  • "Team America" Gets Post-Hack Yanking At Alamo Drafthouse, Too

    Slate reports that even old movies are enough to trigger a pretty strong knee jerk: Team America, World Police, selected as a tongue-in-cheek replacement by Dallas's Alamo Drafthouse Theater for the Sony-yanked The Interview after that film drew too much heat following the recent Sony hack, has also been pulled. The theater's tweet, as reprinted by Slate: "due to circumstances beyond our control,” their Dec. 27 Team America screening has also been canceled." If only I had a copy, I'd like to host a viewing party here in Austin for The Interview, which I want to see now more than ever. (And it would be a fitting venue.)

    230 comments | 3 days ago

  • Will Ripple Eclipse Bitcoin?

    First time accepted submitter groggy.android writes This year's biggest news about Bitcoin may well turn out not to be the repeat of its surge in value last year against the dollar and other state currencies but its impending eclipse by another independent but corporate-backed digital currency. Popularly known as Ripple, XRP shot up in value last year along with other cryptocurrencies that took advantage of the hype around Bitcoin. However, among the top cryptocurrencies listed in Coinmarketcap.com, a site that monitors trading across different cryptocurrency exchanges, Ripple is the only one that not only regained its value after the collapse in the price of Bitcoin but has more than doubled from its peak last year. In September it displaced Litecoin to become the second most valuable cryptocurrency. Even more surpising, a Ripple fork, Stellar, is one of the two other cryptocurrencies in the Coinmarketcap top ten that have risen sharply in value during the last few weeks.

    What makes Ripple different from Bitcoin? Strictly speaking, Ripple isn't the name of the digital currency but of the decentralized payment network and protocol created and maintained by the eponymous Ripple Labs. Users of the Ripple system are able to transact in both cryptocurrency and regular fiat currency like the dollar without passing through a central exchange. XRP is the name of the native unit of exchange used in the Ripple network to facilitate conversion between different currency types.

    143 comments | 3 days ago

  • Did Alcatraz Escapees Survive? Computer Program Says They Might Have

    In June of 1962, three prisoners escaped the penitentary on Alcatraz, in an elaborate plot that was dramatized in a Clint Eastwood movie. A question that has long puzzled the public is whether these men ever made it to shore; the many factors that made Alcatraz a secure prison include sharks, cold water, and contrary currents. Still, some artifacts from the attempt, and perhaps the appeal of stories about survival against high odds, have led many people to believe that the men actually landed safely and faded into society. coondoggie writes This week Dutch scientists from Delft University of Technology presented findings from a computer modeling program they were working on, unrelated to the mystery, that demonstrated the escapees could have survived the journey. "In hindsight, the best time to launch a boat from Alcatraz was [11:30 am], one and a half hours later than has generally been assumed. A rubber boat leaving Alcatraz at [11:30 am] would most likely have landed just north of the Golden Gate Bridge. The model also shows that debris in that scenario would be likely to wash up at Angel Island, exactly where one of the paddles and some personal belongings were found.

    87 comments | 4 days ago

  • Reaction To the Sony Hack Is 'Beyond the Realm of Stupid'

    rossgneumann writes North Korea may really be behind the Sony hack, but we're still acting like idiots. Peter W. Singer, one of the nations foremost experts on cybersecurity, says Sony's reaction has been abysmal. "Here, we need to distinguish between threat and capability—the ability to steal gossipy emails from a not-so-great protected computer network is not the same thing as being able to carry out physical, 9/11-style attacks in 18,000 locations simultaneously. I can't believe I'm saying this. I can't believe I have to say this."

    575 comments | 4 days ago

  • In Breakthrough, US and Cuba To Resume Diplomatic Relations

    HughPickens.com writes: Peter Baker reports at the NYT that in a deal negotiated during 18 months of secret talks hosted largely by Canada and encouraged by Pope Francis, the United States will restore full diplomatic relations with Cuba and open an embassy in Havana for the first time in more than a half-century. In addition, the United States will ease restrictions on remittances, travel and banking relations, and Cuba will release 53 Cuban prisoners identified as political prisoners by the United States government. Although the decades-old American embargo on Cuba will remain in place for now, the administration signaled that it would welcome a move by Congress to ease or lift it should lawmakers choose to. "We cannot keep doing the same thing and expect a different result. It does not serve America's interests, or the Cuban people, to try to push Cuba toward collapse. We know from hard-learned experience that it is better to encourage and support reform than to impose policies that will render a country a failed state," said the White House in a written statement. "The United States is taking historic steps to chart a new course in our relations with Cuba and to further engage and empower the Cuban people."

    425 comments | 4 days ago

  • NASA Study Proposes Airships, Cloud Cities For Venus Exploration

    An anonymous reader writes: IEEE Spectrum reports on a study out of NASA exploring the idea that manned missions to Venus are possible if astronauts deploy and live in airships once they arrive. Since the atmospheric pressure at the surface is 92 times that of Earth, and the surface temperate is over 450 degrees C, the probes we've sent to Venus haven't lasted long. The Venera 8 probe sent back data for only 50 minutes after landing. Soviet missions in 1985 were able to get much more data — 46 hours worth — by suspending their probes from balloons. The new study refines that concept: "At 50 kilometers above its surface, Venus offers one atmosphere of pressure and only slightly lower gravity than Earth. Mars, in comparison, has a "sea level" atmospheric pressure of less than a hundredth of Earth's, and gravity just over a third Earth normal. The temperature at 50 km on Venus is around 75 C, which is a mere 17 degrees hotter than the highest temperature recorded on Earth.

    The defining feature of these missions is the vehicle that will be doing the atmospheric exploring: a helium-filled, solar-powered airship. The robotic version would be 31 meters long (about half the size of the Goodyear blimp), while the crewed version would be nearly 130 meters long, or twice the size of a Boeing 747. The top of the airship would be covered with more than 1,000 square meters of solar panels, with a gondola slung underneath for instruments and, in the crewed version, a small habitat and the ascent vehicle that the astronauts would use to return to Venus's orbit, and home."

    198 comments | 5 days ago

  • 11 Trillion Gallons of Water Needed To End California Drought

    mrflash818 points out a new study which found that California can recover from its lengthy drought with a mere 11 trillion gallons of water. The volume this water would occupy (roughly 42 cubic kilometers) is half again as large as the biggest water reservoir in the U.S. A team of JPL scientists worked this out through the use of NASA's Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) satellites. From the article: GRACE data reveal that, since 2011, the Sacramento and San Joaquin river basins decreased in volume by four trillion gallons of water each year (15 cubic kilometers). That's more water than California's 38 million residents use each year for domestic and municipal purposes. About two-thirds of the loss is due to depletion of groundwater beneath California's Central Valley. ... New drought maps show groundwater levels across the U.S. Southwest are in the lowest two to 10 percent since 1949.

    328 comments | 5 days ago

  • Dr. Dobb's 38-Year Run Comes To an End

    An anonymous reader writes: Dr. Dobb's — long time icon of programming magazines — "sunsets" at the end of the year. Editor Andrew Binstock says despite growing traffic numbers, the decline in revenue from ads means there will be no new content posted after 2014 ends. (The site will stay up for at least a year, hopefully longer.) Younger people may not care, but for the hard core old guys, it marks the end of a world where broad knowledge of computers and being willing to create solutions instead of reuse them was valuable. Binstock might disagree; he said, "As our page views show, the need for an independent site with in-depth articles, code, algorithms, and reliable product reviews is still very much present. And I will dearly miss that content. I wish I could point you to another site that does similar work, but alas, I know of none."

    156 comments | 5 days ago

  • The Joker Behind the Signetics 25120 Write-Only Memory Chip Hoax

    New submitter st1lett0 writes: Now and in years past, electronic engineers and hobbyists alike have enjoyed the classic 1972 April Fool's joke by Signetics of the Signetics 25120 Write-Only Memory chip. Now it seems that the previously anonymous practical joker has identified himself and stepped forward with new information to correct and complete the story.

    100 comments | about a week ago

  • Webcast Funerals Growing More Popular

    HughPickens.com writes: Lex Berko reports in The Atlantic that although webcasting has been around since the mid-1990s, livestreamed funerals have only begun to go mainstream in the last few years. The National Funeral Directors Association has only this year introduced a new funeral webcasting license that permits funeral homes to legally webcast funerals that include copyrighted music. The webcast service's growing appeal is, by all accounts, a result of the increasing mobility of modern society. Remote participation is often the only option for those who live far away or have other barriers — financial, temporal, health-related — barring them from attending a funeral. "It's not designed to replace folks attending funerals," says Walker Posey. "A lot of folks just don't live where their family grew up and it's difficult to get back and forth."

    But some funeral directors question if online funerals are helpful to the grieving process and eschew streaming funerals live because they do not want to replace a communal human experience with a solitary digital one. What happens if there's a technical problem with the webcast — will we grieve even more knowing we missed the service in person and online? Does webcasting bode well for the future of death acceptance, or does it only promote of our further alienation from that inevitable moment? "The physical dead body is proof of death, tangible evidence that the person we love is gone, and that we will someday be gone as well," says Caitlin Doughty, a death theorist and mortician. "To have death and mourning transferred online takes away that tangible proof. What is there to show us that death is real?"

    70 comments | about a week ago

  • The Pirate Bay Responds To Raid

    An anonymous reader writes The Pirate Bay's crew have remained awfully quiet on the recent raid in public, but today Mr 10100100000 breaks the silence in order to get a message out to the world. In a nutshell, he says that they couldn't care less, are going to remain on hiatus, and a comeback is possible. In recent days mirrors of The Pirate Bay appeared online and many of these have now started to add new content as well. According to TPB this is a positive development, but people should be wary of scams. Mr 10100100000 says that they would open source the engine of the site, if the code "wouldn't be so s****y". In any case, they recommend people keeping the Kopimi spirit alive, as TPB is much more than some hardware stored in a dusty datacenter.

    302 comments | about a week ago

  • Small Bank In Kansas Creates the Bank Account of the Future

    HughPickens.com writes Nathaniel Popper writes at the NYT that the Citizens Bank of Weir, Kansas, or CBW, has been taken apart and rebuilt, from its fiber optic cables up, so it can offer services not available at even the nation's largest bank. In the United States the primary option that consumers have to transfer money is still the ACH payment. Requests for ACH transfers are collected by banks and submitted in batches, once a day, and the banks receiving the transfers also process the payments once a day, leading to long waits. ACH technology was created in the 1970s and has not changed significantly since. The clunky system, which takes at least a day to deliver money, has become so deeply embedded in the banking industry that it has been hard to replace. CBW went to work on the problem by using the debit card networks that power ATM cash dispensers. Ramamurthi's team engineered a system so that a business could collect a customer's debit card number and use it to make an instant payment directly into the customer's account — or into the account of a customer of almost any other bank in the country. The key to CBW's system is real-time, payment transaction risk-scoring — software that can judge the risk involved in any transaction in real time by looking at 20 to 40 factors, including a customers' transaction history and I.P., address where the transaction originated. It was this system that Elizabeth McQuerry, the former Fed official, praised as the "biggest idea" at a recent bank conference. "Today's banks offer the equivalent of 300-year-old paper ledgers converted to an electronic form — a digital skin on an antiquated transaction process," says Suresh Ramamurthi. "We'll now be one of the first banks in the world to offer customers a reliable, compliant, safe and secure way to instantly send and receive money internationally."

    156 comments | about a week ago

  • Peru Indignant After Greenpeace Damages Ancient Nazca Site

    HughPickens.com writes The NYT reports that Peruvian authorities say Greenpeace activists have damaged the fragile, and restricted, landscape near the Nazca lines, ancient man-made designs etched in the Peruvian desert when they placed a large sign that promoted renewable energy near a set of lines that form the shape of a giant hummingbird. The sign was meant to draw the attention of world leaders, reporters and others who were in Lima, the Peruvian capital, for a United Nations summit meeting aimed at reaching an agreement to address climate change. Greenpeace issued a statement apologizing for the stunt at the archaeological site and its international executive director, Kumi Naidoo, flew to Lima to apologize for scarring one of Peru's most treasured national symbols. "We are not ready to accept apologies from anybody," says Luis Jaime Castillo, the vice minister for cultural heritage. "Let them apologize after they repair the damage."

    465 comments | about two weeks ago

  • Google Earth API Will Be Retired On December 12, 2015

    An anonymous reader writes Google [on Friday] announced it plans to retire the Google Earth API on December 12, 2015. The reason is simple: Both Chrome and Firefox are removing support for Netscape Plugin Application Programming Interface (NPAPI) plugins due to security reasons, so the API's death was inevitable. The timing makes sense. Last month, Google updated its plan for killing off NPAPI support in Chrome, saying that it would block all plugins by default in January and drop support completely in September. The company also revealed that the Google Earth plugin had dropped in usage from 9.1 percent of Chrome users in October 2013 to 0.1 percent in October 2014. Add dwindling cross-platform support (particularly on mobile devices), and we're frankly surprised the announcement didn't come sooner.

    75 comments | about two weeks ago

  • Tour the Vintage Radio and Communications Museum - Part Two (Video)

    Earlier this week we ran two videos about the Vintage Radio and Communications Museum of Connecticut. Their site says, "Our volunteers are happy to give personal tours," and that's what today's videos (and the two we already ran) are: personal tours of the museum conducted by volunteer Bernie Michaels, known in ham radio circles as W2LFV. And for extra fun, after we ran out of video time we added some bonus transcript material for those who remember things like Sams Photofacts. (Alternate Video Link 1 - Alternate Video Link 2)

    14 comments | about two weeks ago

  • BGP Hijacking Continues, Despite the Ability To Prevent It

    An anonymous reader writes: BGPMon reports on a recent route hijacking event by Syria. These events continue, despite the ability to detect and prevent improper route origination: Resource Public Key Infrastructure. RPKI is technology that allows an operator to validate the proper relationship between an IP prefix and an Autonomous System. That is, assuming you can collect the certificates. ARIN requires operators accept something called the Relying Party Agreement. But the provider community seems unhappy with the agreement, and is choosing not to implement it, just to avoid the RPA, leaving the the Internet as a whole less secure.

    57 comments | about two weeks ago

  • 2014 Geek Gift Guide

    With the holidays coming up, Bennett Haselton has updated his geek-oriented gift guide for 2014. He says: Some of my favorite gifts to give are still the ones that were listed in several different previously written posts, while a few new cool gift ideas emerged in 2014. Here are all my current best recommendations, listed in one place. Read on for the list, or to share any suggestions of your own.

    113 comments | about two weeks ago

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