As the aftershocks of last week’s big “WannaCry” cyberattack reverberate, it’s worth taking a moment to think about what it all means. First, ransomware is a growing menace, and this may be the case that gets it global attention. The idea behind ransomware is simple: no one is willing to pay as much as you for your data. Instead of copying critical data and trying to sell it to others, ransomware authors will simply deny their target access until payment is made.
It’s hard to imagine life without the Internet: no smart phones, tablets, PCs, Netflix, the kids without their games. Impossible, you say? Not really, because we have the Internet thanks to a series of conditions in the United States that made it possible to create it in the first place and that continue to influence its availability. There is no law that says it must stay, nor any economic reason why it should, if someone cannot make a profit from it.
Activity trackers, wearable electronics that collect data passively and can be worn on the body, infiltrated the world’s fitness market in the last decade. Those devices allowed consumers to track steps and heart rate. Next, wearable devices overtook the chronic illness market, giving patients the power to track health behavior and adherence to medication, which could be easily reported back to doctors.
New initiatives aim to harness technology and genomics to create bespoke medicine, customizing your healthcare like your Facebook profile. Instead of relying on generic practice guidelines, your doctors may one day use these new analytic tools to find the ideal treatment for you. Big data will make this precision possible: patterns that emerge from the DNA and medical records of millions can predict which treatments work best for which patients.
If a social conversation turns to the history of navigation – a turn that is not so unusual as once it was – the most likely episode to be mentioned is the search for a longitude method in the 18th century and the story of John Harrison. The extraordinary success of the book by Dava Sobel has popularised a view of Harrison as a doughty and virtuous fighter, unfairly disadvantaged by the scientific establishment.
After oxygen, fresh, clean water is the most basic requirement for the majority of life on Earth in order to survive. However, this is a true luxury that isn’t accessible for many millions of people around the world. Today hundreds of thousands of people die every year from these types of waterborne diseases, and even though these numbers are declining there is still work to be done.
Every year in March, Brain Awareness Week champions the global campaign to celebrate and publicise the progress and benefits of brain research. Are you lying? Do you have a racial bias? Is your moral compass intact? To find out what you think or feel, we usually have to take your word for it. But questionnaires and other explicit measures to reveal what’s on your mind are imperfect: you may choose to hide your true beliefs or you may not even be aware of them.
There are many proposed definitions of artificial intelligence (AI), each with its own slant, but most are roughly aligned around the concept of creating computer programs or machines capable of behavior we would regard as intelligent if exhibited by humans. John McCarthy, a founding father of the discipline, described the process in 1955 as “that of making a machine behave in ways that would be called intelligent if a human were so behaving.”
“Unplugging” from social media does not necessarily equate to quitting. As The Happiness Effect author Donna Freitas found out, the decision to temporarily quit social media is a common among university students. Some students quit because they feel “too obsessed” or “addicted,” while others cite online drama as their reason to take a break.
The hype of technological progress is that it will change the world and make life better for everyone. For young technologists, this may be true, but their blinkered vision does not recognise that, not just the elderly, but many others, cannot cope with electronic communications and the benefits of on-line shopping or banking, etc. In many developed nations 25% of adults are of retirement age.
Technological advances have provided immense improvements in our lives, but often with a hidden cost. Even the historic skills of bronze and iron working were driven by a desire not only for ploughs and tools, but for better weapons of war. This is still the case for much of modern science. Technical knowledge has helped to combat diseases, improve health, provide more food, offer faster travel, or ease hardship, and this is progress.
The hack of the Democratic National Committee by the Russian government and the subsequent publication of confidential emails during the 2016 US presidential election elevated cyber security in the context of international affairs to an unprecedented level in the public’s consciousness, not only in the United States but around the world.
Every country that is on the ascendant feels the need for a “coming out” party. In the last half century, that need has been met most often by hosting the Olympic Games. Japan did it in 1964, South Korea followed in 1988, and China in 2008. The Olympic itch seems to come in the wake of economic growth that takes per capita income to the vicinity of $6,000
The ancient Greek philosophers believed that the Sun, Moon, planets, and stars were mathematically perfect orbs, made from unearthly materials. These bodies were believed to move on perfectly symmetric celestial spheres, through which a backdrop of fixed stars could be seen, rotating majestically every 24 hours. At the centre was the motionless Earth. For the Greeks, the power of reason was more important than observation.
When we walk into a restaurant, we are often confronted by the sight of people taking pictures of their food with their smartphones. Online, our Facebook feeds seem dominated by pictures of people’s hamburgers and desserts. What is going on with food porn? How is consumer desire itself transformed by contemporary technology?
The ultimate fate of the right to be forgotten remains to be seen. Although Europe has temporarily resolved this question in favor of the right by adopting its General Data Protection Regulation, many questions surrounding the issue still must be answered. It’s unclear whether other parts of the world will follow Europe’s lead. Internationally, writers are exploring some of these matters.