Mr Acton left the company in November and has joined other former executives in criticising Facebook. In March he endorsed the #deletefacebook social media campaign that took off after reports of Cambridge Analytica using Facebook's user data came to light.
Facebook has since revealed that the data of up to 87 million people was improperly shared with the consultancy and used for political purposes.
Both men were also said to oppose Facebook efforts to commercialise WhatsApp, which has no advertising.
According to the Washington Post, this included a Facebook plan to access the phone numbers of WhatsApp users along with other data.
Facebook has since been prevented from making use of UK citizens' WhatsApp data for purposes beyond the chat app itself.
Last year the EU also fined Facebook $122m for "providing incorrect or misleading information" about its intentions at the time of the WhatsApp acquisition.
Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg commented on Mr Koum's post, saying he was grateful for what Mr Koum taught him about encryption "and its ability to take power from centralized systems and put it back in people's hands. Those values will always be at the heart of WhatsApp."
WhatsApp, with 1.5 billion monthly users, is the largest messaging service in the world.
We signed up a new client a few weeks ago; they were frustrated about the way that their IT worked.
Or didn’t work, as the case may be.
The straw that broke the camel’s back was the printer.
Offices these days are full of laptops on WiFi and wireless printers too.
They talk to each other without wires. Our new client told me that sometimes his laptop and his printer seemed to be great friends, sometimes he couldn’t get them to talk to each other for love or money.
He’d move his laptop closer to the printer. He’d turn the printer on and off again. He’d press the buttons on the printer. He’d restart his laptop. Nothing would work.
Eventually, he’d give up, and email the document to someone else to print.
I know that most offices have a similar story, with fudges and workarounds in place to get stuff done, when the tech seems to be having a bad day.
If that’s your office, then we can help.
Get in touch and you’ll never have to create a cheeky workaround again…
Technology has completely taken over our lives and, for the most part, we’ve let it.
It’s hard to argue that the world today is worse off than it was. For years I lived an ocean away from my family and many of my friends, yet they rarely felt out of reach. Asking my dad for cooking advice from five-thousand miles away was even easier than asking my neighbor to borrow salt. Around the world more pressing problems, like totalitarian regimes, have been challenged and sometimes toppled by protestors who organized revolutions over social media. And I know at least two people who’ve said they “can’t live without Alexa.”
How many phone numbers do you know? What would happen if all suddenly GPS went offline? Losing your smartphone is now akin to losing a part of your brain.
But just as technology makes things easier it has the potential to handicap our connection with the world around us. How many telephone numbers do you know? What would happen if suddenly all GPS went offline? How many people would struggle to find their way home from a cafe just a few blocks away? Losing your smartphone is now akin to losing a part of your brain.
In a new book called Re-Engineer Humanity, Evan Selinger, professor of philosophy at the Rochester Institute of Technology, and Brett Frischmann, professor of law at Villanova University, argue that technology is causing humans to behave like mere machines. By taking over what were once fundamental functions, they say algorithms, robots, and consumer devices have begun to be dissociate us from our own humanity. The text isn’t a luddite-like rejection of technological progress. Rather, it’s a careful consideration and caution of the way we let tech into our lives.
We spoke to Selinger about the book, his views on our problematic relationship with technology, and how he suggests we fix it. The solution, he said, won’t take just individual digital detoxes, but a complete societal shift. The interview has been edited for clarity.
Digital Trends: The book revolves around the concept of humanity’s ”techno-social dilemma.” Can you explain what that is?
Evan Selinger: Sure, not long ago, a lot of tech coverage was very enthusiastic about the latest product reviews. There was a kind of “gee whizz” feeling about it. But…suddenly things have gotten really dark. Zuckerberg appears before congress to talk about data privacy problems and political propaganda, and this is on the back of things like the backlash against companies making addictive smartphones. There’s this turning point that seems to be happening. There’s suddenly this wide spread reflection on the dark side of technology.
A lot has been made about how little the politicians who were talking to Zuckerberg knew about how tech works. I totally understand why people are responding this way. They’re concerned about how we could even have decent regulation if regulators don’t even understand what’s going on. But the problems that cause things like humanity’s techno-social dilemma are so much more complicated than making politicians more tech-literate and social media-savvy.
“The problems that cause things like humanity’s techno-social dilemma are so much more complicated than making politicians more tech-literate and social media-savvy.”
In the book, Brett Frischmann and I had to do something like an interdisciplinary full-court press. We had to put together philosophy and law, economics, sociology, history, computer science, and cognitive science into hundreds of pages just to get a sense of what is really going on. What are the real deep problems?
One of the framings we came up with is “humanity’s techno-social dilemma,” which we think gets at the underlying stuff as a way to connect all the dots and begin to look at what technology is doing to us.
The fact is, there are tech companies with their own ambitions…but people have their own agendas too. We have this love-hate relationship with technology now where we’re clamoring for the latest iPhone and update, but then all of a sudden wonder where all our privacy went. We end up getting surprised because things ramp up to the extent that, once a certain amount of buy-in happens, we move to the next level and suddenly everyone is involved.
It sounds like you’re referring to the concept of “creep,” or that by gradually broadening the scope of technology, something radical can suddenly feel normal. You worry about this in the book. Can you give a real world example of creep?
I have an example from just the other day. I live in New York and got a mail to renew my state driver’s license. The paperwork recommended I get real ID rather than just a driver’s license, because it said you’d need that real ID to travel in a few years. I told my father-in-law about this and he said maybe we should just start putting microchips in citizens. Then we wouldn’t have to worry about the next level of IDs. Traveling would be seamless.
That is the logic of techno-social engineering creep right there! Not too long ago people would have thought the idea of a chip implant is dystopian. Now we’re so used to being surveyed with devices like our phones that it’s become a new normal.
Not too long ago people would have thought the idea of a chip implant is dystopian. Now we’re so used to being surveyed with devices like our phones that it’s become a new normal.
Techno-social engineering creep refers to how, through practices and getting accustomed to things, our expectations and sense of comfort with things shift. Sometimes our preferences even shift and get engineered.
You pose the question early on of whether techno-social engineering is turning people into simple machines. How do you see that happening?
Technology affects our humanity because it impacts our senses and our thoughts. It impacts our decisions, including our judgement, attention, and desires. It impacts our ability to be citizens, what were informed about and how we stay informed. It impacts our relationships, and advance in A.I. will even substitute our engagements with people. It even impacts our fundamental understanding of what it means to be human, who we are and what we should strive to become.
Our point is that our very humanity is being reshaped and reconfigured by technology. As the desire to have everything be “smart” increases, one of our concerns is that…these environments will end up monitoring what we do and end up slicing and dicing us in all kinds of powerful ways. We wonder if this super smart world will result in us going with some kind of pre-programmed flow and whether that flow is optimized so that to understand what it means to be human we will feel pressured to see ourselves as optimizable technology.
Many people are focused on the rise of A.I., with the concern that our robotic overlords will enslave us once ‘the singularity’ occurs. Our concern is that we are going to be programmed to want be placed in environments that are so diminishing of our agency…that we outsource our emotions and capacities for connection. How much could we give up, dumb ourselves down, to fit in to these smart environments?
You state that one of the attractions of smart environments is that they offer “cheap bliss.” Do I sense a double meaning there?
I’m curious what you think the double meaning is?
The idea that bliss is made cheap, as in easy to attain, but also cheap, as in not very rewarding.
I think you’re putting your finger on it.
“One of the trends
that’s occurring across consumer tech … is the idea of creating an ever more frictionless world, where effort is seen as a bug, not a feature.”
When we talk about cheap bliss, we want to figure out what world we’re building and what values are being prioritized by the very design of that world. And we want to find out what human beings are being nudged to value. One of the trends that’s occurring across consumer tech and overlapping with governmental projects like smart cities, is the idea of creating an ever more frictionless world, where effort is seen as a bug, not a feature. The idea is that humans are inefficient but technology can be very efficient.
When you design technology to disburden us of efforts, your changing the moral calculus in a way that will work very well for people who value a kind of basic hedonism, who think that the highest value in life is pleasure and the more pleasure we can have the better. This is what that world seems to be optimized for.
In the book we’re trying to offer these alternative values for human flourishing.
You also seem to take a stab at how technology enables us to outsource responsibilities, and take issue with parental outsourcing in particular. You refer to it as “drone parenting.”
Just to be clear, we are absolutely not doing any finger pointing. If I were, I’d be indicting myself.
It’s very hard being a parent right now. We can have all the insight into tech addiction and too much screen time, and yet there’s nonetheless the reality that my middle school daughter’s friends are all on their phones, on Snapchat and Instagram, reporting on social events. There’s a whole lot of social pressure. I’m super sympathetic to the numerous complexities and tradeoffs involved with being a parent.
But tech offers the possibility to take over more and more parental functions. All these technologies make it easier to be a parent. Think about parents at restaurants, where the easiest way to keep their kids from being disruptive is to give them a tablet.
We talk about the quantified self and the quantified baby devices, which can help monitor your children. Those things can be appealing. New parents want to make sure they’re not making any mistakes. They want to make sure the baby is breathing, for example, or if the baby wakes up that they’re attentive to that. But the more and more a baby’s vital functions are being monitored by these technologies and the easier these reports get sent to us, there is a question to be raised about the trade off.
It’s very hard being a parent right now. We can have all the insight into tech addiction and too much screen time, and yet there’s nonetheless the reality that my middle school daughter’s friends are all on their phones, on Snapchat and Instagram, reporting on social events.
A consequence of adopting these technologies is whether or not we want to develop our own sense of attunement, which requires skill, effort, and a desire to be present.
So what’s next? How do you suggest we solve the dilemma?
Simple techno-fixes are not what we’re prescribing. You know, people say turn your notifications off so you’re pinged less or start using a greyscale version of your phone because it’s less enticing than the color screen. That advice exists but these micro-solutions often are a lot less consequential than the people who are proposing them make them out to appear.
Two quick things that I’ll say:
People have pointed out that our online contract system is broken. They’re engineered in such a way that you can pack the maximum amount of boilerplate in. There’s no point in reading them. Not only can you not understand it, but you realize no one else can so you’re incentivized to put deliberation on hold and immediately click “I Agree” as fast as possible to get the service. This leaves consumers without full knowledge about what they’re doing and gives companies full power.
But think about how common contracts are. They seem to be increasing because they’re so easy and we’re conditioned to not think about them at all. This is a simple machine part. We’re being optimized to consider not meetings of the minds, but just basically autopilot resignation. It’s take it or leave it. There’s no bargaining. We ask whether the practice is helping signal that deliberation doesn’t really matter when it comes to dealing with tech. Just get into a habit accepting what they provide until some sort of disaster happens and then hope that regulators or someone else takes care of it.
The other thing we want to point out is that, in being a human, it’s important to have some capacity for breathing room, to sort of step back and examine all of the social pressures and all of the social programming that’s going on. The ability to step away from being observed by others, by technology companies, that is disappearing. It’s becoming harder to find spaces to have breathing room.
We’re wondering how to find this breathing room in this world. You can’t get it simply by carving out your little niche because that will only go so far. This might mean clamoring for different regulations for when companies can reach you.
We’re seeing something like that in Europe but it certainly isn’t a popular idea here in the U.S.
But there is also prize money for competitions - the winning team at the 2016 League of Legends world championship shared $1m (?725,933).
E-sports will be included in the official sporting programme of the 2022 Asian Games in Hangzhou, China.
Team Secret's Director of Media George Yao said his team did not know Kyle was only 13 when they first watched him play Fortnite online.
"We had no idea. The level of communication they had in the game was at such a professional level, and the sound of his voice is very mature, so we naturally didn't even think he was that young so it took us by surprise.
"It's very rare to find a player that is at that calibre at such a young age."
Mr Yao added no tournaments had been announced yet.
But making sense of the new terms poses a challenge.
Some companies, including Facebook, are asking members to give explicit consent to new features such as facial recognition.
Others - such as Twitter, Fitbit and Yahoo - have told members that simply continuing to use their products will be interpreted as agreement to the tweaked conditions.
The time-strapped public would be forgiven for thinking the easiest thing to do is to tick the necessary boxes and otherwise plough on regardless, despite the advent of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).
But that would be to pass up an opportunity to understand and place limits on how your personal details are being exploited for profit.
And there is value in knowing what you have signed up for in advance of the next data privacy scandal.
A quick search for key phrases can help users hone in on the key details
Digital rights campaign group Privacy International suggests that one way to handle the deluge of documents is to search for instances of the following terms:
The phrase may be mentioned in sections that explain what data is being collected and how that is achieved.
In particular, users should watch out for details of personal information being acquired from third parties that could let the services profile them in unexpected ways.
The new law explicitly defines the places a person visits in their past and present as being a type of personal data for the first time.
Organisations are therefore required to detail how such information will be used to identify individuals.
When consent is required, it must now be given via a clear action.
The days of automatically signing up people to a marketing campaign because they did not untick a box are over.
But it's worth double-checking how consent is being sought to avoid clicking a button without realising its consequences.
Users based outside the EU should check where the entity is based. Facebook recently switched millions of its users out of the control of its Irish office, which means they will no longer be protected by the European watchdogs enforcing the new legislation.
'Purposes' and 'Recipients'
These terms are often used to inform users what a business will do with their data and with whom they will share it.
It highlights some of the ways you can take advantage of GDPR's new rights.
These include the right to object to any decisions taken by organisations based solely on algorithms having analysed your personal data. For instance, you can appeal against a decision to refuse you a job interview based solely on computer analysis of your CV.
You can also request a copy of the personal data being processed to make software-driven decisions.
Which's computing editor told the BBC that people should be aware that if they are unhappy at how their personal information is being used to target ads at them, they can now demand part or all of it to be erased.
She added that people should also watch out for illegitimate enticements.
"I saw on Twitter the other day somebody share an email... saying you'd get a free pizza if/when you consented," commented Kate Bevan.
"That is a big fat nope - consent can't be bundled with something else."
You may need to ask follow-up questions to get the answers you want
Those that take the time to wade through all the paperwork may still have questions.
For example, while an app might have to disclose that it shares data with third parties, it does not necessarily have to name them unless a user personally requests the information.
"They should always give you a point of contact," explained Nicola Fulford, head of data protection and privacy at the law firm Kemp Little.
"If they sent you an email and you have questions, then they should respond to it, although obviously at the moment they may be very busy."
Fake online reviews are being openly traded on the internet, a BBC investigation has found.
BBC 5 live Investigates was able to buy a false, five-star recommendation placed on one of the world's leading review websites, Trustpilot.
It also uncovered online forums where Amazon shoppers are offered full refunds in exchange for product reviews.
Both companies said they do not tolerate false reviews.
'Trying to game the system'
The popularity of online review sites mean they are increasingly relied on by both businesses and their customers, with the government's Competition and Markets Authority estimating such reviews potentially influence £23 billion of UK customer spending every year.
Maria Menelaou, whose Yorkshire Fisheries chip shop is the top-ranked fish and chip shop in Blackpool on several review sites, said the system has replaced traditional advertising.
"It brings us a lot of customers ... It really does make a difference. We don't do any kind of advertising," Mrs Menelaou said.
While three quarters of UK adults use online review websites, almost half of those believe they have seen fake reviews, according to a survey of 1500 UK residents conducted by the Chartered Institute of Marketing and shared with BBC 5 live Investigates.
Some US analysts estimate as many as half of the reviews for certain products posted on international websites such as Amazon are potentially unreliable.
"Sellers are trying to game the system and there's a lot of money on the table," said Tommy Noonan, who runs ReviewMeta, a US-based website that analyses online reviews.
"If you can rank number one for, say, bluetooth headsets and you're selling a cheap product, you can make a lot of money," he said.
'5 star is better for us'
In 2016, Amazon introduced a range of measures prohibiting what it called "incentivised reviews", where businesses offered customers free goods in exchange for positive reviews.
Mr Noonan said this effectively drove the problem underground, leading to the emergence of Facebook groups where potential Amazon customers were encouraged to buy a product and post a review in return for a full refund.
BBC 5 live Investigates identified several of these groups and, within minutes of joining, was approached with offers of full refunds on products bought on Amazon in exchange for positive reviews.
"5 star is better for us" said one person making such an offer, in an exchange of messages with the BBC. "We value our brand, will refund you as we promised ... All my company do in this way."
It was not possible to identify the people making these offers, nor contact the businesses whose products they were seeking reviews for.
"We do not permit reviews in exchange for compensation of any kind, including payment. Customers and Marketplace sellers must follow our review guidelines and those that don't will be subject to action including potential termination of their account," Amazon said in a statement.
Responding to adverts posted on eBay, the BBC was also able to purchase a false 5-star review on Trustpilot, an online review website that describes itself as "committed to being the most trusted online review community on the market".
"Dan Box is one of the most respected professionals I have dealt with. It was a pleasure doing business with him," this review said - word for word as requested by 5 live Investigates.
Trustpilot, whose platform allows anyone to post a review, said they have "a zero-tolerance policy towards any misuse".
"We have specialist software that screens reviews against 100's of data points around the clock to automatically identify and remove fakes," the company said.
In a statement, eBay said the sale of such reviews is banned from its platform "and any listings will be removed".
Some business groups have raised concerns about the impact the new rules could have, saying many companies are unaware of the changes, and that recording this additional information will be a burden.
The Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) is responsible for enforcing the GDPR in the UK. It has published a 12-step guide on how businesses can get ready.
9. Can I be fined for failing to comply?
Yes - the GDPR allows the ICO to issue fines to anyone failing to comply.
The ICO can issue fines of up to about £17.5m, or 4% of a company's global turnover, whichever is higher.
Fines can be issued for misusing data, data breaches, or failing to process an individual's data correctly.
10. Will it still apply after the UK leaves the EU?
GDPR rules will continue to apply after the UK leaves the EU.
The government's Data Protection Bill, means that GDPR rules will essentially be replicated in UK law.
The bill also adds the ability for individuals to request that social media companies delete any posts they made when they were a child, and expands the definition of personal data to include IP addresses, internet cookies - and even DNA.
Very pleased today to hear WhatsApp is raising the age of use from 13 to 16. At last someone is doing something to protect teenage minds & self esteem. Come on Facebook get your act together#WhatsApp#Facebook
All very valid points but my 13 year old daughter is part of a form WhatsApp group where they check in with how they are feeling and also what lessons they have, homework that's due, they help each other with homework. So increasing the age limit would be detrimental for her.
To comply with GDPR, the social network is asking those aged 13 to 15 to nominate a parent or guardian to give permission for them to share information on the platform.
If they do not, they will not see a fully personalised version of the platform.
In a related development, Facebook's Instagram service has also launched a "data download" tool that provides a file containing the photos, comments, archived Stories, contacts and other personal data a user had posted to the service in the past.
We love when technology gives us new gadgets or entertaining features, but it’s even better when scientists get together and use technology for more noble pursuits… like saving the planet. That’s right: From biodegradable bullets to robot bees, today’s eco-friendly creations are literally changing the world for the better.
If you need a more optimistic look at the future, check out these promising pieces of modern tech, each of which is greening up everyday activities and fixing a problem we once thought unsolvable.
A SEA NET DESIGNED TO CLEAN UP THE GPGP
For those who don’t know, the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is a giant collection of trash — one made primarily of plastics and other materials that don’t disintegrate in water — that’s currently adrift in the middle of the Pacific. If you want to get technical, it’s called a marine trash vortice, and it’s larger than many countries.
Ocean Cleanup is an organization dedicated to finding innovative waves of getting rid of the GPGP before it gets even worse. Do you remember those floating, connected markers at the public pool? Ocean Cleanup has devised a heavy-duty version of those lines, except each float is actually a polyurethane trash collector that filters out and captures pieces of the GPGP.
The goal is to attach these lines to sea vessels and have them pass in and out of the garbage patch to help clean it up. Simulations show that this could reduce the GPGP’s size by almost 50 percent in five years, thus reducing its impact on aquatic life.
A GRAPHENE FILTER THAT MAKES SALT WATER DRINKABLE
The severe water shortages facing many parts of the world could be solved if there was an easy way to filter salt out of seawater and make it drinkable. Desalination plants do exist, but they are complex, expensive to build, and can’t be used everywhere. Now a team of scientists in the U.K. thinks it has a solution that could transform the world’s water needs.
Enter a carefully designed graphene filter made from a single layer of carbon atoms in a hexagonal lattice. This type of graphene layer can do all kinds of cool stuff, but scientists are currently using it to develop a graphene oxide sieve that could filter out salts — and can do it far more effectively than current desalinization plants, at a fraction of the cost.
THE U.S. ARMY’S BIODEGRADABLE BULLETS
In addition to all the other problems with war, bullets are actually really bad for the environment; they can leach toxic metals into the soil that can kill plants, harm animals, and build up in nearby communities, eventually causing medical problems.
Enter the U.S. Army’s plan to create biodegradable bullets. Basically, they want to use bullets made out of composite materials that can act as much like real bullets as possible, and can be fired using current weaponry. This will allow soldiers posted around the world to conduct typical training regimens without worrying about the impact of the bullets on the surrounding environment.
Even better, the final bullets chosen for the project may include hibernating seeds, which are designed to take root in the soil months later and sprout into environmentally-beneficial plants. How crazy would that be?
A CHIMNEY THAT GETS RID OF POLLUTION
China has been hard at work trying to reduce its sizable pollution problem and make cities safer to live in for years now. This involves traditional solutions such as solar and wind power, along with more innovative approaches — like this 200-foot chimney in Xi’an.
The chimney’s genius design uses solar heating to warm pollution particles drawn in at the chimney’s base, forcing them into a network of filters housed within the shaft. The particles are then trapped as the warm air continues to rise, creating a healthy cycle that pushes clean air into the city. The chimney can currently handle particles less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter, which is particularly impressive for this kind of project. If the creation is deemed a success, these towers could appear in cities around China.
A PLANE POWERED VIA FUEL CELLS
Here’s a crash course (no pun intended) on the fuel cell: It creates an electrical current by utilizing a chemical reaction between hydrogen and oxygen. Stack enough of these fuel cells together, and they become powerful enough to operate larger machines, including vehicles. The only byproduct of a fuel cell is, famously, water.
The problem is that fuel cells are difficult and expensive, at least when you’re dealing with larger vehicles. Plus, you need a handy source of hydrogen gas to keep the vehicle powered. That’s why you don’t see too many fuel cell cars on the road, though, there are a handful of car manufacturers that offer fuel cell variants.
All this makes this German plane even more impressive, because it manages to carry several passengers while running on nothing by fuel cells. In many ways, this four-seater is more suited for fuel cells than cars are, especially when it comes to refueling. The creators are hopeful that these planes could be used as eco-friendly taxis between nearby cities.
THE “LEAFY GREEN MACHINES” NASA WANTS TO PUT IN SPACE
Freight Farms, by themselves, are already impressive eco-friendly constructs; these little grow rooms are manufactured using recycled freight crates with advanced hydroponics that allow them to grow racks of farm-fresh produce even in the middle of the city. Companies like Freight Farms are currently mass producing these “Leafy Green Machines,” providing cities that receive little daylight or currently face produce shortages with a better method for growing crops.
That’s already cool, but it gets cooler! NASA has given Freight Farms and Clemson University a grant to study how the Leafy Green Machines could be used in space travel. Basically, NASA wants to take these freight gardens to the next level and see if they can become entirely independent. If they can run on renewable energy and produce enough food to support humans, they may be ideal for growing in-flight produce.
A STREETLIGHT POWERED VIA USED CAR BATTERIES
Electric cars are becoming more and more common, but there are some issues when it comes time to replace their batteries, which often need to be swapped out while they’re still operational. Note: Electric cars require their batteries to be in peak condition in order to operate correctly.
Rather than let these batteries go to waste, Nissan decided to do something with them, and created The Reborn Light project. The project’s aim is to take used batteries from electric cars and attach them to LED-equipped streetlights, allowing them to run for years with little maintenance. Early reports say they can provide the same sort of visibility as traditional streetlights, though, they capitalize on a planet-saving approach we can all get behind.
THE BEST SOLAR ROOF ON THE MARKET
Quick! What’s the big problem people have with installing solar roofs? For the average homeowner, the short answer is either “installation” or “appearance.” Most people simply don’t want a cumbersome solar panel on their roof, especially when it comes with additional structural concerns.
Thankfully, Tesla has developed a more discrete type of solar roof. The intuitive design utilizes tiles that look like shiny, ultra-modern versions of the same clay or stone tiles luxury homes have used for decades. Not only do these solar panels protect your roof from rain, pests, and so on, they are also great at producing energy. In fact, they are more efficient than the average solar panel that’s often marketed toward consumers, and they’re cheaper than a normal roof.
Although Tesla’s solar panels are only available under limited conditions in a few markets, there are plans to expand into new territories in the near future, and to offer a greater variety of tile appearances.
THE MACHINE THAT REDUCES CARBON EMISSIONS (PERMANENTLY)
The biggest problem with greenhouse gases is that once they’re out and about, it’s really hard to do anything about them. Carbon capture and storage is, at least currently, notoriously difficult and often temporary. Luckily, a startup called Climeworks and an Icelandic project called CarbFix have teamed up to change all of that.
Together, these researchers have developed a machine that has been attached to the Hellisheidi Power Station, which is being hailed as the greenest power plant in the world. In addition to using geothermal energy, the plant now takes in carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and injects it into the basalt rocks beneath the plant. CO2 and basalt combine to form permanent carbonate rocks, which will house the carbon permanently. It’s still something of a prototype, though, so here’s hoping larger versions can be developed soon!
A BACTERIA STRAIN THAT GENERATES ENERGY FROM SUNLIGHT AND CO2
Yes, the field of “cyborg bacteria” is now a real thing. The term essentially refers to bacteria that have been engineered to coat themselves with nanocrystals. These nanocrystals are grown from cadmium and cysteine that scientists feed to the new bacteria, and they function as little solar cells that turn sunlight into energy.
The bacteria, in turn, use this solar energy to turn carbon dioxide and water into acetic acid, which they can use as a food source. Not only is this process more efficient than the chlorophyll-based method used by plants, it also shows great potential as a new C02-removal system, one that could help scrub our atmosphere and oceans. Scientists are also looking into ways to use the bacteria as a major energy producer, which, down the line, could lead to some exciting advancements in the solar field.
ROBOTIC BEES THAT ARE DESIGNED TO POLLINATE
If you’re up to speed on your ecology news, then you’re probably already aware that bees are dying off at an unprecedented rate. Whether the cause is a changing climate, new diseases, pesticides, or a combination thereof, it’s bad news for anyone who depends on bees for pollination.
The good news is that this has led to some serious innovation, including the development of robotic bees, aka B-Droids. These robots aren’t just lab drawings, either. Prototypes were developed and launched in 2014, and more advanced versions of the B-Droid have continued to appear in the years since. The latest version functions like a mini quadcopter, and has successfully pollinated both garlic and strawberries via a set of cameras and algorithms that coordinate flight paths between flowers. Thanks for saving the planet, robots!
LEATHER THAT DOESN’T RELY ON ANIMALS
Human fabrics are rarely eco-friendly — leather, in particular. Unlike cotton or wool, animal skin isn’t exactly renewable, which means it takes a serious ecological toll to produce. And anyone who has tried cheap pleather products knows that the synthetic version isn’t exactly satisfying, especially in the long term.
Thankfully, Modern Meadow’s has developed a new solution. After years of research and millions of dollars in investment, the company has officially created a biofabrication technique that results in animal-free leather. How does this miracle work? It uses yeast cultures that are engineered to create collagen, the biological material that skin is formed from. Scientists then take that collagen and process it into leather, basically in the same way that real leather is created.
Not only is the new leather poised to revolutionize the clothing industry, it also apparently feels and acts just like the real thing. Scientists can even switch up the processing method to create different colors, new textures, or entirely new fabric types that rely on cotton and other materials.
LEGOS MADE FROM BIODEGRADABLE MATERIALS
At first, “bioplastic” sounds like an oxymoron: How can plastic be biological or eco-friendly when it’s famously not? That said, Lego has found a way. The iconic company — you know, the one behind those colorful blocks you always step on in your living room — has just introduced a new line made entirely from biodegradable materials.
The secret is a new process that turns sugar cane into a plant-based plastic, one that acts like traditional plastic with a few advantages. The new Legos are eco-friendly and just as durable as the older models, for instance, and they’re softer to the touch.
Google’s effort to come to grips with Android’s messaging problem has arrived via “Chat,” a consumer-friendly name for the Rich Communication Services (RCS) messaging standard.
RCS, which we’ve looked at before, is an evolution of SMS. It introduces many features that have previously been unavailable through texting: Better group messaging, read receipts, typing indicators, animated stickers, and more — things that have long-been available on Internet Protocol apps like Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, and Apple’s iMessage. Chat isn’t a new app from Google, rather the technology based on the Universal Profile for RCS. It will be supported in Android Messages, the default texting app on many Android phones.
Chat, first reported by The Verge, is a carrier service. That means Google worked with more than 50 carriers around the world and almost a dozen manufacturers to support the standard. Sent messages will be inked to your data plan instead of your SMS plan, and charges — set by the carrier — should be minimal.
The idea is for Chat to offer modern messaging features to the default texting app on all Android phones. So it doesn’t matter if you use AT&T, Verizon, or Samsung’s messaging app, you’ll still be able to see read receipts, typing indicators, and more with someone using Android Messages. All these messaging apps will be on the same platform, so everyone will (hopefully) have a modern, seamless experience.
Google is so serious about moving ahead with Chat, that it has suspended development of Allo.
Google expects the Chat standard to be switched on for most Android users some time this year, though the precise timing will be decided by each carrier and region. It already works between Sprint users, and T-Mobile said it will flip the switch on in the second quarter of this year.
If you send a message to someone without Chat enabled, or a non-Android user, the message will be sent as an SMS. The sooner carriers turn on Chat, the better for everyone. It won’t work with iPhone users until Apple supports Chat. At the moment, The Verge reports Google and a group of mobile operators are in talks with the Cupertino company to support the platform.
Google is so serious about moving ahead with Chat, that it has suspended development of Allo, a messaging app it launched two years ago. The team is now focusing exclusively on Android Messages. The default texting app will get a web version very soon, so you can send and receive messages from a desktop. Then expect the Android Messages app to gain a host of features, including Smart Replies, Google Assistant, Google Photos integration, and more.
The drawback is Chat or Android Messages won’t be end-to-end encrypted, therefore it won’t be as secure as iMessage or Signal.
Google’s interest in persuading carriers to turn on Chat is obvious. Its Allo messaging app has failed to build a user base that can compete with the likes of Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp, so the company has switched the team to focus on incorporating the app’s best features into Google’s Android Messages, which is preinstalled on most Android devices and has more than 100 million active monthly users.
Anil Sabharwal, the executive leading the team and whose track record includes Google Photos, points out that Android Messages is where all the users are, so it makes perfect sense to divert its efforts toward the app.
The bottom line is that Chat hopes to banish the limitations of SMS to give users a much more enjoyable messaging experience, with support for a wide range of features at little to no cost. What does that mean for Hangouts? Google intends to turn it exclusively into a corporate messaging service — a competitor to Slack — and it’s likely that Allo will be put on the chopping block in the future.