Findings, music, and occasional reflections by Paul Woodward

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The devastating environmental impact of technological progress

Wired reports: For decades, David Maisel has been photographing places where humans are changing the environment so dramatically that the impact can be seen from the sky. For his latest project, Desolation Desert, the San Francisco-based visual artist spent two weeks in and around South America’s Atacama desert, where humankind’s insatiable demand for copper, lithium and rare-earth metals to fuel the consumer electronics and electric vehicle industries is reshaping the

Why Zuckerberg’s embrace of Mayor Pete should worry you

Noam Cohen writes: We recently learned that Elizabeth Warren is the kind of presidential candidate Mark Zuckerberg considers an existential threat to Facebook. She is, after all, determined to break up the sprawling social-networking empire. But what about the others? What sort of presidential candidate does Zuckerberg consider an existential asset to Facebook? We may have an answer: Step right up, Pete Buttigieg, mayor of South Bend, Indiana. Bloomberg recently

Russian hackers disguised as Iranian spies attacked 35 countries

Kate O’Flaherty reports: Russian cyber actors disguised themselves as Iranian spies so they could stealthily orchestrate attacks on countries across the world, the U.S. and U.K. said today (21 October) in a joint statement. The so called Turla group, which is also known as Snake or Uroburos, hid in plain sight by acquiring Iranian tools and infrastructure to perform their attacks, the U.K.’s Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) and U.S. National

In its relentless pursuit of power, Silicon Valley is fueling the climate crisis

Rebecca Solnit writes: The climate crimes of big tech are legion. This summer the Amazon burned. Why? In part because of the policies of the new anti-environmental, anti-human-rights president, Jair Bolsonaro. How did Bolsonaro rise to prominence and then the presidency? YouTube, and certain of its algorithms that push people toward more extreme content, played a large part. As the New York Times reported in August, not long ago Bolsonaro

What Jeff Bezos wants for his empire and himself, and what that means for the rest of us

Franklin Foer writes: I first grew concerned about Amazon’s power five years ago. I felt anxious about how the company bullied the book business, extracting ever more favorable terms from the publishers that had come to depend on it. When the conglomerate Hachette, with which I’d once published a book, refused to accede to Amazon’s demands, it was punished. Amazon delayed shipments of Hachette books; when consumers searched for some

The failed personal, social, and economic promise of Silicon Valley

Kim Phillips-Fein writes: For many years, Silicon Valley and the machines that came out of it were presented as personally, economically, and socially transformative, agents of revolution at both the level of the individual and the whole social order. They were democratizing, uncontrolled, anarchic, and new. Most of all, they were supposed to be fun—to open up a space of play and freedom. How is it, then, that just a

Studying the hidden effects of artificial light

Rebecca Boyle writes: Light is the basis for all life, but it is more than just a source of energy. It is also a source of information, telling organisms when to sleep, hunt, hide, migrate, metabolize, and reproduce. Since the advent of incandescent light bulbs, humans have been interfering with those messages. And the interference is worsening with the spread of LEDs, which consume less electricity and so are often

I researched Uighur society in China for 8 years and watched how technology opened new opportunities – then became a trap

Uighurs wait in line at a face scan checkpoint in Turpan, Xinjiang in northwest China on April 11, 2018. Darren Byler, CC BY By Darren Byler, University of Washington The Uighurs, a Muslim minority ethnic group of around 12 million in northwest China, are required by the police to carry their smartphones and IDs listing their ethnicity. As they pass through one of the thousands of newly built digital media

Facebook, Google face off against a formidable new foe: State attorneys general

The Washington Post reports: Historically, the federal government has taken the starring role in competition matters, including investigations into potential monopolies and mergers, and such inquiries involving the tech giants are underway. But the states are potent actors in their own right, with the power to invoke local laws on antitrust and consumer-protection and to tap Washington’s antitrust statutes on behalf of their residents. When state attorneys general have banded

The moral rot of the MIT Media Lab

Justin Peters writes: Founded in 1985, the Media Lab cultivated an image as a haven for misfit geniuses, for academics who, as the Lab’s most recent director put it, “don’t fit in any existing discipline either because they are between—or simply beyond—disciplines.”. These thinkers were the latest inheritors of MIT’s famed “hacker ethic”: iconoclastic engineers who used applied science to try and make the world a better place. Yet the

Voice-mimicking AI software reportedly used in a major theft

The Washington Post reports: Thieves used voice-mimicking software to imitate a company executive’s speech and dupe his subordinate into sending hundreds of thousands of dollars to a secret account, the company’s insurer said, in a remarkable case that some researchers are calling one of the world’s first publicly reported artificial-intelligence heists. The managing director of a British energy company, believing his boss was on the phone, followed orders one Friday

A new era of machine-driven warfare: Robots that can kill

Zachary Fryer-Biggs writes: Wallops island—a remote, marshy spit of land along the eastern shore of Virginia, near a famed national refuge for horses—is mostly known as a launch site for government and private rockets. But it also makes for a perfect, quiet spot to test a revolutionary weapons technology. If a fishing vessel had steamed past the area last October, the crew might have glimpsed half a dozen or so

It’s not just fires — the tech industry’s voracious demand for gold is also destroying the Amazon

BuzzFeed reports: The wildfires ripping through the Amazon have drawn the world’s attention to the destruction of the “lungs of the planet.” Many scientists believe cattle ranchers clearing land caused the flames, spurring groups around the world — including the government of Finland — to call for a boycott of Brazilian beef. But to boycott all of the products damaging the Amazon, you’d have to do much more than give

How ‘dark patterns’ online manipulate shoppers

Sidney Fussell reports: Dark patterns are the often unseen web-design choices that trick users into handing over more time, money, or attention than they realize. A team of Princeton researchers is cataloging these deceptive techniques, using data pulled from 11,000 shopping sites, to identify 15 ways sites subtly game our cognition to control us. The research builds on the work of Harry Brignull, a London-based cognitive scientist who coined the

Google’s onetime hired gun could now be its antitrust nightmare

Politico reports: When Google needed government sign-off on a 2007 acquisition that would tighten its grip on the digital advertising market, the company turned to antitrust attorney and lobbyist Makan Delrahim to help get the job done. Now, as the Justice Department’s top antitrust enforcer, Delrahim could be the one to undo it all. As U.S. competition enforcers cast a more critical eye on the nation’s biggest technology companies, Delrahim

Amazon asserts its contribution to climate change is a trade secret

The Register reports: Amazon has refused to publish data about the energy consumption and carbon emissions of its business in Australia, including vast server farms, claiming its contribution to climate change is a trade secret. The company has asked the Clean Energy Regulator (CER) – the country’s agency tasked with regulating carbon emissions and encouraging clean energy use – to keep its data from publication, arguing that this involves proprietary