Tag Archives: SciTech

Apple security flaw could be a backdoor for the NSA

Apple security flaw could be a backdoor for the NSA Apple security flaw could be a backdoor for the NSA

Was the National Security Agency exploiting two just-discovered security flaws to hack into the iPhones and Apple computers of certain targets? Some skeptics are saying there is cause to be concerned about recent coincidences regarding the NSA and Apple.
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Within hours of one another over the weekend, Apple acknowledged that it had discovered critical vulnerabilities in both its iOS and OSX operating systems that, if exploited correctly, would put thought-to-be-secure communications into the hands of skilled hackers.

“An attacker with a privileged network position may capture or modify data in sessions protected by SSL/TLS,” the company announced.

Apple has since taken steps to supposedly patch up the flaw that affected mobile devices running its iOS operating system, such as iPhones, but has yet to unveil any fix for the OSX used by desktop and laptop computers. As experts investigated the issue through the weekend, though, many couldn’t help but consider the likelihood — no matter how modicum — that the United States’ secretive spy agency exploited those security flaws to conduct surveillance on targets.

On Saturday, Apple enthusiast and blogger John Gruber noted on his personal website that information contained within internal NSA documents leaked by former intelligence contractor Edward Snowden last year coincide closely with the release of the affected mobile operating system, iOS 6.

According to a NSA slideshow leaked by Mr. Snowden last June, the US government has since 2007 relied on a program named PRISM that enables the agency to collect data “directly from the servers” of Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Facebook and others. The most recent addition to that list, however, was Apple, which the NSA said it was only able to exploit using PRISM since October 2012.

The affected operating system — iOS 6.0 — was released days earlier on September 24, 2012.

These facts, Gruber blogged, “prove nothing” and are “purely circumstantial.” Nevertheless, he wrote, “the shoe fits.”

With the iOS vulnerability being blamed on a single line of erroneous code, Gruber considered a number of possibilities to explain how that happened.

Conspiratorially, one could suppose the NSA planted the bug, through an employee mole, perhaps. Innocuously, the Occam’s Razor explanation would be that this was an inadvertent error on the part of an Apple engineer,” he wrote.

Once the bug was in place, the NSA wouldn’t even have needed to find it by manually reading the source code. All they would need are automated tests using spoofed certificates that they run against each new release of every OS. Apple releases iOS, the NSA’s automated spoofed certificate testing finds the vulnerability, and boom, Apple gets ‘added’ to PRISM.

Gruber said he sees five possible scenarios, or “levels of paranoia,” as he put it:

Nothing. The NSA was not aware of this vulnerability.
The NSA knew about it, but never exploited it.
The NSA knew about it, and exploited it.
NSA itself planted it surreptitiously.
Apple, complicit with the NSA, added it.

Of course, Guber added, there is always the possibility that “this is all a coincidence.” He certainly wasn’t the only one to consider it, though.

Again, all of this is circumstantial and speculative, and Apple has come out numerous times vehemently denying its involvement in any NSA program,” iDownloadblog’s Cody Lee wrote on Monday. “But the timing is rather odd, and it makes you wonder how such a serious bug went undiscovered for over a year.”

Indeed, Apple has since the start of the Snowden leaks adamantly fended off allegations concerning a possible collusion with the NSA. On December 31, 2013, the company even issued a statement insisting “Apple has never worked with the NSA to create a backdoor in any of our products, including iPhone.”

We will continue to use our resources to stay ahead of malicious hackers and defend our customers from security attacks, regardless of who’s behind them,” Apple said then — nearly two months after acknowledging the major security vulnerability discovered last week.

At the time, though, Apple was responding to another serious allegation that, if correct, gives much more credence to the latest accusations. The Dec. 31 statement was sent hours after security researcher Jacob Appelbaum presented previously unpublished NSA slides at a hacking conference in Germany, including some where the spy agency boasted about being able to infiltrate any iPhone owned by a targeted person.

The NSA, Appelbaum said, “literally claim that any time they target an iOS device, that it will succeed for implantation.”

“Either they have a huge collection of exploits that work against Apple products — meaning they are hoarding information about critical systems American companies product and sabotaging them — or Apple sabotages it themselves.”

Last year, RT reported that the NSA entered into a contract in 2012 with VUPEN, a French security company that sells so-called 0-day exploits to governments and agencies so that vulnerabilities and flaws can be abused before the affected product’s owner is even made aware. It’s likely just another major coincidence that fits the time frame eerily well, but that contract was signed only days before iOS 6 was released — and, coincidentally, days before the NSA boasted about being able to access Apple communications through its PRISM program.

Source: RT

Hundreds of tiny satellites could soon deliver free internet worldwide

Hundreds of tiny satellites could soon deliver free internet worldwide Hundreds of tiny satellites could soon deliver free internet worldwide
Developers say they are less than a year away from deploying prototype satellites that could someday soon broadcast free and universal internet all over the globe from high in orbit.
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The “Outernet” project being bankrolled by the Media Development Investment Fund (MDIF) of New York is currently in the midst of conducting technical assessment of the project, but say by June they hope to develop test satellite in order to see how long-range WiFi would work if beamed down by a tiny 10x10x10-centimeter payload called a CubeSat.

If all goes as planned, a test CubeSat will be sent into orbit next January, and within a few years there could be hundreds of similar devices circling the Earth and sending back down internet signals. Once that is accomplished, countries that largely censor the web — like China and North Korea — would be hard-pressed to restrict internet access without also going into orbit.

“We exist to support the flow of independent news, information, and debate that people need to build free, thriving societies,” MDIF President Peter Whitehead told the National Journal recently. “It enables fuller participation in public life, holds the powerful to account and protects the rights of the individual.”

To accomplish as much, though, MDIF is facing a rather uphill battle, at least with regards to funding. Funny enough, sending hundreds of tiny WiFi ready satellites into orbit isn’t as inexpensive as one might imagine.

Syed Karim, MDIF’s director of innovation, told the National Journal’s Alex Brown that it would take only three years and $12 billion to get the project up and running.

But “We don’t have $12 billion,” Karim said, “so we’ll do as much as we can with CubeSats and broadcast data.”

Broadcasting data,” Outernet says on their website, “allows citizens to reduce their reliance on costly internet data plans in places where monthly fees are too expensive for average citizens. And offering continuously updated web content from space bypasses censorship of the Internet.”

Around 40 percent of the planet currently doesn’t have access to any sort of internet service, the company claims, but basic CubeSats could send one-way signals down to earth to deliver news or content through a “global notification system during emergencies and natural disasters,” their website says.

Access to knowledge and information is a human right and Outernet will guarantee this right by taking a practical approach to information delivery. By transmitting digital content to mobile devices, simple antennae and existing satellite dishes, a basic level of news, information, education and entertainment will be available to all of humanity.” If they can succeed with that, then Outernet hopes to start figuring a way to let customers send data back to the CubeSats, ideally creating free, “two-way internet access for everyone” in a few years’ time.

During a recent question-and-answer session on the website Reddit, Karim explained that the Outernet project is already being more affordable because some of the most expensive aspects of the endeavor, at least with regards to research, have already been considered by other entrepreneurial space experts.

There isn’t a lot of raw research that is being done here; much of what is being described has already been proven by other small satellite programs and experiments,” Karim said.

There’s really nothing that is technically impossible to this,” he added. “But at the prospect of telecoms operators trying to shut the project down before it gets off the ground,” Karim said, “We will fight… and win.”

Meanwhile, his group is gunning to figure out how to make that dream a reality without going over budget. Getting one of those tiny CubeSats into orbit could cost upwards of $100,000, Brown reported, and slightly larger satellites being considered by Outernet could run three times that.

We want to stay as small as possible, because size and weight are directly related to dollars,” Karim said. “Much of the size is dictated by power requirements and the solar panels needed satisfy those requirements.”

Source: RT

Google investing more than $1 billion in alternative energy

solar panels and wind farms Google investing more than $1 billion in alternative energy

​Around one-third of Google’s operations are made possible by renewable power, but the Silicon Valley giant is gunning to become completely reliant on resources like wind and the sun.
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Rick Needham, the director of Google’s Energy and Sustainability office, told CNBC recently that 34 percent of the search engine company’s day-to-day operations are currently powered by reusable resources. If all goes as planned, though, before long that statistic could soar as high up as 100 percent.

Speaking to CNBC for an article published on Sunday, Needham acknowledged that a huge amount of Google’s spending has been going towards advancing the company’s reliance on energy sources like solar power.

In just the last quarter, Needham said, Google spent $2.25 billion on data centers and its general infrastructure, which is a lot for even one of the tech industry’s biggest companies. To bring the cost down, Google has been investing tons lately to be used towards alternative energy sources.

“We’ve invested over a billion dollars in 15 projects that have the capacity to produce two gigawatts of power around the world, mostly in the US, but that’s the equivalent of Hoover’s Dam worth of power generation,” Needham told the network. According to IT Pro Portal reporter Paul Cooper, that $1 billion worth of spending has all occurred in just the last year, with new endeavors being unveiled as recently as last week.

One of the latest pieces of Google’s puzzle came into place last Thursday when the company officially began operations at a massive solar thermal project in Ivanpah, California that uses 357,000 sun-facing mirrors to make around 394 megawatts of electricity. That project is the largest of its kind in the entire world, and is capable of making enough energy to power around 140,000 area homes.

“The Ivanpah project is a shining example of how America is becoming a world leader in solar energy,” US Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz said in a statement to the Associated Press after Thursday’s dedication ceremony at the site. “This project shows that building a clean-energy economy creates jobs, curbs greenhouse gas emissions and fosters American innovation.”

That project, valued at around $2.2 billion in all, is funded in part by $168 million made possible by Google and other funds courtesy of NRG Energy, Oakland-based BrightSource Energy and loans guaranteed by the US Energy Department.

That $168 million figure represents only a sliver of the $1 billion in wind and solar investments that Google has made during the last year, and to CNBC Needham said that it only makes since that a company has extensive as his has expressed interest in renewable energy.

“The fact is that all of these things, procuring power for ourselves, investing in power plants, renewable power plants, they all make business sense, they make sense for us as a company to do. We rely on power for our business,” he said.

“At Google we invest in innovative renewable energy projects that have the potential to transform the energy landscape and help provide more clean power to businesses and homes around the world,”Needham added in a statement sent to the IB Times. “Ivanpah is a shining example of such a project and we’re delighted to be a part of it.”

Solar power farms aren’t the only types of operations Google has been investing in lately, either. As RT has reportedly several times lately, the company has been spending millions on acquiring robotics and artificial intelligence firms, and — like renewable energy — Google intends on making those new additions a major part of the team before long. Speaking to the Independent last year, Google engineer Scott Huffman said new advances in AI will allow the company’s computers to soon “understand context in conversation” and soon be more human than ever.

Source: RT

Surveillance companies want Utah to stop enforcing privacy-protection law

Surveillance companies want Utah to stop enforcing privacy protection law Surveillance companies want Utah to stop enforcing privacy protection law
 
A privacy law passed in Utah last year limits the use of license plate readers and aims to keep the data collected by them from being abused; now two surveillance companies that sell those scanners are suing the state for alleged free-speech infringement.
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The two companies — California’s Vigilant Solutions and Digital Recognition Network (DRN) of Texas — filed the lawsuit in Utah federal court on Thursday and asked a judge there for a permanent injunction against last year’s law.

When the legislation was signed by Governor Gary Herbert last April, it imposed restrictions on how the high-tech surveillance tools can be used across the state, essentially abolishing the sale and use of license plate readers by private companies while also putting limits on how long government entities can store the data collected by those devices.

License plate readers, or LPRs, can photograph upwards of 60 cars-per-second and then match that data with details stored in a list that contains the tags registered to criminals or ones ordered for repossession. A handful of states have passed laws putting limits on these devices, though, often by claiming that collecting this information for extended amounts of time allows anyone with ownership of it to pry into the personal lives of others.

“A person who knows all of another’s travels can deduce whether he is a weekly church goer, a heavy drinker, a regular at the gym, an unfaithful husband, an outpatient receiving medical treatment, an associate of particular individuals or political groups — and not just one such fact about a person, but all such facts,” the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit ruled in 2010.

When State Sen. Todd Weiler (R-Woods Cross) proposed the privacy bill, S.B. 196, last February, he asked that the state stop private companies from collecting this information and that the government be forced to give up the data after 90 days.

“I don’t want to stop catching criminals,” he said before committee at the time. “I do want to put a tighter lid on the data being harvested.”

But just one year later, that state law has been brought into the crosshairs of two private surveillance companies that say their right to free speech should cancel out the limits imposed by Weiler’s act.

The suit — filed against both Gov. Gary Herbert and Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes — says a court must intervene and place an injunction against Weiler’s law because the First Amendment of the US Constitution allows for photography in public space — and that, they say, is essentially what the LPRs do.

“Taking and distributing a photograph is an act that is fully protected by the First Amendment,” Michael Carvin, an outside counsel for Vigilant, said in a statement this week. “The state of Utah cannot claim that photographing a license plate violates privacy.”

“License plates are public by nature and contain no sensitive or private information,” Carvin continued.“Any citizen of Utah can walk outside and photograph anything they please, including a license plate.”

Sen. Weiler told the Associated Press this week that his idea of photography doesn’t quite match up with that of the attorneys who are asking for an injunction.

“It’s one thing to take a photo,” he told the AP. “It’s another to take photos every 80th of a millisecond, and then store that data you can later be identified by.”

“I’m befuddled with that being speech,” Weiler told reporters at Ars Technica when they approached him for comment this week. “As you know, this technology… can cut through fog, it can see in the dark, it’s very invasive — it doesn’t matter if you’re going 80 mph. It’s not just a photograph, it’s the direction of travel, time and GPS location. If it was just pictures, nobody would buy it. I think it’s an invasion of privacy. This technology is very intrusive, and I don’t think you can argue with a straight face that this is the same thing as taking a picture of a car.”

When Weiler first proposed his bill last April, the state office of the American Civil Liberties Union lauded his effort while at the same time saying, ideally, they’d want retention periods trimmed down from 90 days to 12 hours. Five months later in July, the ACLU published a 37-page report advocating other lawmakers to propose limits on LPRs.

“The implementation of automatic license plate readers poses serious privacy and other civil liberties threats,” the report read. “More and more cameras, longer retention periods and widespread sharing allow law enforcement agents to assemble the individual puzzle pieces of where we have been over time into a single, high-resolution image of our lives. The knowledge that one is subject to constant monitoring can chill the exercise of our cherished rights to free speech and association.”

Ironically, journalist Paul Nelson of Utah’s KSL news network, reported on Friday that DRN founder Todd Hodnett plans to cite past arguments made by the ACLU in pushing for the court to acknowledge the alleged free-speech infringement brought on by Weiler’s law.

“They assert that when in public spaces, where you are lawfully present, you have the right to photograph anything that’s in plain view. That includes a picture of a federal building, a transportation facility and police,” he told the network.

Hodnett also insisted to KSL that the Utah law “has already had a significant monetary impact on our corporation and our shareholders.” Their lawsuit acknowledges that tow truck owners and repossession businesses in the state can no longer acquires DNR’s services under Weiler law. Prior to its passage, he said, DRN sold a total of 10 LPR camera kits to five private businesses there.

According to his lawsuit, Weiler’s legislation serves little purpose.

“The State does not have a substantial interest in preventing persons from viewing or photographing license plates—or from disseminating the information collected when doing so—because license plates contain no private information whatsoever,” it reads in part. “Moreover, the photographic recording of government-mandated public license plates does not infringe any ‘privacy’ interest that concededly is not infringed when the photographer views the plate. Thus, the State cannot carry its heavy burden to demonstrate that it has a substantial interest that is served by the Act.”

“The law restricts the collection and use of data with an ‘Automatic license plate reader system,’” Fred Cate, a law professor at Indiana University, added to Ars Technica’s report. “The restriction on collecting data might conceivably pass First Amendment scrutiny, but not the ban on using the data. I think it is very likely that a court will strike that down.”

“Whether such laws are ultimately upheld or ruled unconstitutional will have a huge impact on whether more comprehensive privacy regulations are enacted and what they will look like,” Penn State University law professor Clark Asay opined to Ars.

According to their report, Sen. Weiler is currently engaged with the ACLU on a plan that would revise the current law and “may negate” this week’s lawsuit if approved.

Only five states in the US had laws limit LPR use at the time of last year’s ACLU report, but 14 are currently considering similar proposals.

Source: RT

White House unveils cybersecurity standards for private businesses

us introduces cybersecurity standards for private companies White House unveils cybersecurity standards for private businesses
The White House on Wednesday released the final version of the voluntary cybersecurity standards that President Barack Obama called for the creation of exactly one year ago in an effort to reduce risks to the United States’ critical infrastructure.
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But after 12 whole months of development, tech experts aren’t sure if the latest effort to strengthen cybersecurity among the players involved in the nation’s power sector, telecommunications sphere and other at-risk realms meets what they think is warranted.

During his 2013 State of the Union address, Pres. Obama acknowledged that earlier that day he signed an executive order intended to strengthen the country’s cyber defenses “by increasing information sharing and developing standards to protect our national security, our jobs and our privacy.” That executive order compelled the director of the National Institute of Standards and Technology, or NIST, to develop a framework intended to help entities reduce cyber risks faced by the nation’s most crucial assets. Government officials announced one year to the day that they were ready to begin rolling-out those standards to interested industry partners during a White House press conference on Wednesday.

“Threats are becoming more sophisticated,” White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough said during the event that afternoon, and “…the only way to address these threats effectively is through a true partnership between the government and the private sector.” Soon, however, participation in the program is expected to be mandated among government contractors.

When the president signed the order last February, he warned that the threat from cyberattacks has worsened in recent years and cited money-hungry hackers and malicious foreign nation-states as being among the biggest culprits behind attacks on America’s computer systems. One year later that threat has arguably only intensified — especially in light of the recent security breaches suffered at the hands of Target, Neiman Marcus and others — and the Obama administration hopes that companies that consider adopting the new framework will find themselves less likely to be brought down by highly-skilled hackers.

The framework, its authors write, “uses a common language to address and manage cybersecurity risk in a cost-effective way based on business needs without placing additional regulatory requirements on businesses.” According to its executive summary it “enables organizations – regardless of size, degree of cybersecurity risk or cybersecurity sophistication – to apply the principles and best practices of risk management to improving the security and resilience of critical infrastructure” by providing “organization and structure to today’s multiple approaches to cybersecurity by assembling standards, guidelines and practices that are working effectively in industry today.”

Over the course of 47 pages, the document outlines a framework composed of five core functions — identify, protect, deter, respond and recover — intended to provide participating entities with a strategic view of how they match up against varying levels of attack. Elsewhere it shows participants how to align with best practices crucial to protecting the systems of critical infrastructure components, and how those groups can manage themselves to assess all sorts of potential risks.

Critical infrastructure, as defined in that report, is composed of “systems and assets, whether physical or virtual, so vital to the United States that the incapacity or destruction of such systems and assets would have a debilitating impact on security, national economic security, national public health or safety or any combination of those matters,” and includes private sector businesses ranging from telecommunication providers to utility companies.

Cybersecurity Framework 021214 Final

The framework announced this week doesn’t require any companies or corporations to sign on, however, and absent monetary incentives it could make little difference in coercing cooperation from the private sector.

Originally, the US government considered actions that would have awarded companies that follow the framework by providing assistance in acquiring the upgrades required to wrestle against cyberattacks. That offer has been erased from the finalized framework, however, much to the chagrin of some who saw those measures as a way to attract otherwise unwilling participants that aren’t interested in adopting purely voluntary standards.

“Six months ago the message we were hearing is that incentives were coming,” Robert Dix, vice president of government affairs for California’s Juniper Networks told Bloomberg BusinessWeek in a recent telephone interview“Virtually nothing has been done to move the needle on any incentives that are going to be economic motivators for investments.”

“If the framework isn’t cost effective and isn’t supported by incentives, it’s hard to see how it can work on a sustainable basis,” added Larry Clinton, the president of the Internet Security Alliance, which represents General Electric, among others.

Indeed, Dix and Clinton’s trade group are not alone. On Tuesday this week, the Information Technology Industry Council — which includes Apple, Google, IBM, Intel and Symantec — released a statement which in part objected to the lack of incentives being offered a year after they were all but assured.

“Given limited fiscal resources and the complexity of incentives, including the necessary involvement of multiple stakeholders including Congress, it is highly unlikely any will be available at, or immediately following, the February 2014 launch” of the framework, that group said.

Others have applauded the framework, albeit while still expressing some reservations about the final report.

“The voluntary cybersecurity framework provides a number of useful guideposts for companies who want to better secure their data,” Greg Nojeim of the DC-based Center for Democracy and Technology wrotein a statement released Wednesday afternoon. “The framework will be useful to companies and their privacy officers, because it will remind them that processes should be put in place to deal with the privacy issues that arise in the cybersecurity context.”

“However, we are concerned that the privacy provisions in the framework were watered down from the original draft,” added Nojeim. “We would have preferred a framework that requires more measurable privacy protections as opposed to the privacy processes that were recommended. As the framework is implemented, we are hopeful that such privacy protections are further developed and become standardized.”

Even Michael Chertoff, the former secretary of the Department of Homeland Security under President George W. Bush, told POLITICO last week that he thinks the framework lacks the necessary support from other aspects of the US government. Without that, he said, it might not be enough to protect critical infrastructure components.

“Either Congress will have to really put some muscle behind it, or the regulators … will have to pick up the baton,” said Chertoff. “I wouldn’t say we’re at the end of the journey.”

Even those unwilling to adopt the voluntary standards will have other options to protect their computers, though. Current DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson announced during Wednesday’s conference that his office has established the Critical Infrastructure Cyber Community Voluntary Program, or C-Cubed, to give companies that provide critical services like cell phone, email, banking and energy free and direct access to cyber security experts within the DHS who have knowledge about specific threats facing the country, as well as ways to counter those threats and recover.

“The C-Cubed Voluntary Program will serve as a point of contact and customer relationship manager to assist organizations with framework use, and guide interested organizations and sectors to DHS and other public and private sector resources to support use of the Cybersecurity Framework,” Johnson’s department said in a statement published on Wednesday.

Source: RT

Real-life Iron Man armor to be ready by June – US admiral

real life iron man armor Real life Iron Man armor to be ready by June – US admiral
 
In an attempt by fact to imitate fiction, the US military’s “Iron Man” armor will take an important step towards reality in June, when multiple prototypes will be revealed and tested.
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According to a report by Defense Tech, Navy Admiral William McRaven said three prototypes of the TALOS – Tactical Assault Light Operator Suit – are currently being put together in the hopes that they’ll be ready for testing this summer.

If everything goes according to schedule, McRaven said the TALOS could become operational by 2018.

“That suit, if done correctly, will yield a revolutionary improvement in survivability and capability for special operators,” McRaven said Tuesday at a military conference in Washington, DC.

Although the prototypes scheduled for June will be unpowered, the military’s wish list of TALOS features is ambitious to say the least. As RT reported last year, the suit is being designed primarily with defense in mind and will likely include liquid armor, a synthetic substance being developed at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. This material has the capability to shift from a liquid state to a solid within milliseconds, making the suit’s wearer essentially impervious to gunfire.

ironman 2 Real life Iron Man armor to be ready by June – US admiral

 

Should an operator suffer an injury anyway, the suit will be capable of monitoring the individual’s health vitals and other information using a built-in system that rests against the skin and provides its own supply of heat, air, and oxygen. There are additional plans to incorporate a “wound stasis” program that could stop bleeding by spraying some kind of medical foam onto an injury.

In addition to boasting new technology that would enhance the operator’s awareness on the battlefield, TALOS could also be equipped with offensive capabilities, such as the “full-body ballistic projections” noted by the military last year.

According to Defense Tech, these Iron Man suits are currently being developed by a wide range of organizations: about 56 different corporations, 16 government agencies, 13 universities, and 10 national laboratories.

0 Real life Iron Man armor to be ready by June – US admiral

If successful, McRaven believes TALOS could potentially give the United States a “huge comparative advantage over our enemies and give our warriors the protection they need.”

This isn’t the only futuristic suit being developed by defense companies, though. Lockheed Martin has also been hard at work on an exoskeleton dubbed HULC (Human Universal Load Carrier), which grants increased mobility and the ability to transfer up to 200 pounds of weight off the user’s body.

Source: RT

Monsanto blamed for disappearance of monarch butterflies

butterfly Monsanto blamed for disappearance of monarch butterflies

As scientists continue to track the shrinking population of the North American monarch butterfly, one researcher thinks she has found a big reason it’s in danger: Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide.
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On Wednesday, the World Wildlife Fund announced that last year’s migration – from Canada and the United States down to Mexico – was the lowest it’s been since scientists began tracking it in 1993. In November, the butterflies could be found on a mere 1.6 acres of forest near Mexico’s Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve, a decline of more than 43 percent over the previous year.

Back in 1996, the insects could be found covering a span of 45 acres. Part of the decline can be attributed to illegal logging in Mexico that has decimated the butterfly’s natural habitat, as well as rising temperatures, which threaten to dry out monarch eggs and prevent them from hatching.

Now, though, biologist Karen Oberhauser of the University of Minnesota has also pinpointed the increased use of Monsanto’s Roundup herbicides in the United States and Canada as a culprit.

According to Oberhauser, the use of Roundup has destroyed the monarch butterfly’s primary food source, a weed called milkweed that used to be commonly found across North America. As the agriculture industry boomed and farmers effectively eliminated the weed from the land in order to maximize crop growth, she was able to catalog a parallel decline in the butterfly’s population.

Speaking with Slate, Oberhauser said that when the milkweed population across the Midwest shrank by 80 percent, the monarch butterfly population decreased by the same amount. With some states such as Iowa losing more than 98 percent of their milkweed population – the weed doesn’t even grow on the edges of farmland anymore – the disappearance of the plant poses a huge risk to the insect’s survival.

“We have this smoking gun,” she told Slate. “This is the only thing that we’ve actually been able to correlate with decreasing monarch numbers.”

For its part, Monsanto noted that herbicides aren’t the only reason the monarch is dying. The company cited studies that showed the butterfly’s population in Michigan and New Jersey were not shrinking, though scientists have dismissed those studies since they focused on areas where milkweed was still prevalent.

Monsanto has come under fire before for the effects of its agriculture-oriented chemicals. As RT reported last year, studies linked Roundup’s main ingredient to diseases such as cancer, autism and Alzheimer’s. In spite of these findings, the Environmental Protection Agency ruled to raise the permissible level of the ingredient that can be found on crops.

Meanwhile, another report in October found a clear link between the pesticides sold by Monsanto in Argentina and a range of maladies, including higher risk of cancer and thyroid problems, as well as birth defects.

As for the plight of the monarch butterfly, the insect is still thriving in Hawaii and countries like Australia and New Zealand. In North America, Oberhauser believes the great migration can still rebound due to the monarch’s high fertility rates (a single female can lay up to 1,000 eggs throughout her life). For that to happen, however, scientists believe the US, Canada and Mexico will have to work together and draft a strategy that will help the insect safely make its way through the three countries.

“I think it’s past time for Canada and the United States to enact measures to protect the breeding range of the monarchs,” monarch expert Phil Schappert of Nova Scotia told the Washington Post“or I fear the spiral of decline will continue.”

Source: RT

Google adds artificial intelligence company to list of new space-age acquisitions

google Google adds artificial intelligence company to list of new space age acquisitions

Google is continuing its futuristic spending binge, this time purchasing a secretive new artificial intelligence startup named DeepMind.
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According to a report by Re/Code, Google spent $400 million to purchase the new company, while The Information reported the deal is actually upwards of $500 million, coming together after talks between DeepMind and Facebook fell apart.

The London-based startup was first established by neuroscientist and child chess prodigy Demis Hassabis, researcher Shane Legg, former Skype developer Jaan Tallin and others.

We’re really excited to be joining Google,” Hassabis told the Daily Mail in an email. “This partnership will allow us to turbo-charge our mission to harness the power of machine learning tools to tackle some of society’s toughest problems, and help make our everyday lives more productive and enjoyable.”

Although there’s notable talent behind the scenes, exactly what DeepMind does is something of a mystery. The company website merely states that its goal is to combine “the best techniques from machine learning and systems neuroscience to build powerful general-purpose learning algorithms.”

According to anonymous sources cited by Re/Code, the company has been developing a variety of approaches to AI,”or artificial intelligence, and applying them to various potential products including a recommendation system for e-commerce.” Other reports, meanwhile, highlight DeepMind’s involvement in “deep learning,” or the process of developing machines that can learn much in the same way that humans do.

In an attempt to head off concern that breakthroughs in AI could potentially be used for ominous means, Google is also reportedly establishing an ethics board charged with making sure that new technology isn’t abused. As with the purchase itself, details regarding this ethics board are sparse.

As noted by TechCrunch, Google isn’t the only company investing in deep learning research and development. Facebook recently hired New York University professor Yann LeCunn to head up its new artificial intelligence lab, while Yahoo has purchased LookFlow, a photo analysis company, to lead its own deep learning initiative.

Google’s own director of engineering, noted inventor and futurist Ray Kurzweil, has stated his intention to help the company develop an advanced search engine that could behave like a“cybernetic friend.”

In December, the search giant expressed another vision for the future, describing a future in which cloud-connected microphones are embedded in ceilings around the world. According to Google, this would allow people to access a Siri-like virtual assistant without even needing a device nearby, since entrenched microphones would be able to pick up commands and process information as necessary.

The DeepMind purchase, meanwhile, continues a torrid streak of futuristic acquisitions by Google, which has purchased eight robotics companies within the last seven months. Late last year, the company purchased the engineering firm Boston Dynamics, a notable supplier of robotics technology to the Pentagon and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.

It’s unclear exactly what Google is planning to do with all these purchases, but just before the Boston Dynamics acquisition was revealed, RT reported that Google was looking into robotics as its next big initiative. The company may not necessarily be focusing its efforts towards the consumer market, either, as speculation suggests it may have Amazon in its crosshairs with plans to enter manufacturing.

Amazon, of course, made waves of its own last year when CEO Jeff Bezos announced plans to build drones capable of delivering packages to recipients.

“Google’s robotics ambitions and Bezos’s drone PR should be a reminder to investors that they are not only investing in the trend lines of the current financials, but in the future vision and broad ambitions of these companies,” wrote Ben Schachter, an analyst at Macquarie, back in December.“Amazon and Google clearly are going to invest in projects that may not bear fruit for 5-10 years, if at all.”

Source: RT