Recent Articles By Andrew Orr [RSS]

The U.S. Government Plants Spy Phones on People

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In certain situations, the U.S. government plants spy phones on people. In one case, the DEA sold encrypted BlackBerry phones to a suspected cocaine smuggler.

“If the government is distributing, effectively, bugging devices, without sufficient court oversight and authorization, I think that could really have a chilling effect on free expression, if people feel like they have to assume the risk that any phone they’re handed could have been bugged in a way that would violate their rights,” says Human Rights Watch researcher Sarah St. Vincent.

 

Major Media Outlets Think Climate Change Isn't Important

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In recent disturbing (but not entirely surprising), it turns out that major media outlets don’t mention climate change. Over a two-week period from late June to early July, ABC, CBS, and NBC aired a combined 127 segments or weathercasts that discussed this summer’s heat wave. But only CBS mentioned climate change as a contributing factor.

There is overwhelming scientific evidence that human-induced climate change is exacerbating both the frequency and intensity of heat waves. Heat domes like the one that caused this recent heat wave are becoming more intense and more common, scientists have found. UCLA climate scientist Daniel Swain, who has studied extreme weather patterns in California, said recent heat in California was unusual.

Can an Algorithm do Land Surveying?

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If an algorithm draws lines on a map, is that the same thing as land surveying? A Mississippi court is trying to answer this very question, thanks to a startup called Vizaline.

Since 2014, Vizaline, a startup based in Madison, Mississippi, has provided this very specific service to local banks: drawing polygons on satellite photos. Why would banks want this? Many banks lend money to facilitate real-estate acquisition, and, in this way, the bank can gain a better sense of precisely where this land is in relation to other property.

But Mississippi’s Board of Licensure for Professional Engineers and Surveyors says that it should be the state entity solely responsible for land surveying.

Talsam is Smart Jewelry that Connects You With Loved Ones

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Talsam is smart jewelry that offers you an intimate way to connect with a loved one. The New York City based team has produced a stylish charm that is designed to enhance your most precious relationships by combining high design with cutting edge technology. Talsam connects to a smartphone using Bluetooth. When its wearer receives a message or animated emoji sent using the Talsam app, the charm lights up like a shooting star to let them know. The wearer can also send an SOS alert that includes their location to an emergency contact by pressing a button on the charm for a few seconds. Talsam is smart jewelry made with fashion in mind. The team spent months carefully constructing every aspect of the charm, to ensure that the end product offers maximum wearability and style. Each of the six charms in the collection is a unique blend of plated stainless steel and semi-precious stone and boasts six Swarovski crystals arranged in the pattern of the Lyra Constellation, a group of stars associated with love and music.

Talsam is Smart Jewelry that Connects You With Loved Ones

This Robot Gardener Chases After Sunlight

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Have you ever wanted a robot gardener? Maybe this new robot can help. It’s not a gardener per se, it’s a robot/plant hybrid that has a plant on its head and chases sunlight to keep the plant fed.

The resulting plant-robot hybrid looks like a leafy crab or a robot Bulbasaur. It moves toward the sunshine when needed, and it retreats to shade when it’s had enough. It’ll “play” with a human if you tap its carapace, and it can even make its needs known by performing a little stompy dance when it’s out of water.

Redesigning the macOS Desktop Concept Experience

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UI-UX designer Kévin Eugène created a macOS desktop concept experience. He calls it macOS Newton, but he doesn’t redesign apps, just the overall experience of the desktop. Like, not using windows for apps, but instead something called Flows. It opens apps into fullscreen mode like on iOS. Multiple apps can be summoned from a Flow Strip, a bar on top of the dock. Flows, like Shortcuts, are programmable. You can open up a Flow of multiple apps in a certain order with a click. All-in-all I think the concept is interesting, although I can’t see Apple ever wildly changing macOS like this.

Redesigning the macOS Desktop Concept Experience

Human Evolution Came From Multiple Ancestral Populations

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Human evolution is the result of more than one ancestral population. In a new commentary paper, it suggests Homo sapiens emerged from a single ancestral population and a single geographic region in Africa. But other experts think differently.

While ‘Mitochondrial Eve’ was a real person, she wasn’t the only ancestor around, and would not have come from the only population around. She just happened to be the woman from which all people living today inherited their mitochondrial genetic code.

Algorithms Need a Conscience in the Public Sector

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AI Agent

Algorithms need a conscience in the public sector, according to author Virginia Eubanks. She has a book called Automating Inequality, and she argues that the poor are a testing ground for new technology that increases inequality.

To some extent, we’re used to companies making arbitrary decisions about our lives — mortgages, credit card applications, car loans, etc. Yet, these decisions are based almost entirely on straightforward factors of determination — like credit score, employment and income. In the case of algorithmic determination in social services, there is bias in the form of outright surveillance in combination with forced PII share imposed upon recipients.

The DOD Needs AI to Help With Classification

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The Department of Defense is looking for special AI to help with classification. The DOD issued a request for information (ROI) from the tech industry, looking for help.

Defense IT officials are seeking software that “must be able to make real-time decisions about the classification level of the information and an individual’s ability to access, change, delete, receive, or forward the information based on the credentials of the sending and/or receiving individual, facility, and system.”

Nvidia and MIT Created a Photo AI that can Clean up Noisy Photos

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Nvidia and MIT have partnered to create a photo AI that can automatically remove noise from images. The system is called Noise2Noise AI and it was trained using 50,000 photos.

In their paper, the researchers show that their AI can successfully remove enough noise to make the pictures usable again, with detail and clarity that’s remarkably close to the source images. The AI could likely find use in software for cleaning up noisy photos captured in low-light conditions on phones and cameras, as well as improving astronomical imagery and MRI scanning.

Future AirPods Could Become Even More Accessible

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A new feature that Apple is adding to AirPods is called Live Listen. It lets people hear conversations in noisy settings. It will come to future AirPods coming later this year, although it won’t be a replacement for hearing aids.

Nick Dawson—the founder of the Sibley Innovation Hub at Johns Hopkins university, so no stranger to patient-driven care—is documenting experiments with his mother, who is using the beta version of LiveListen with her AirPods, on Twitter.