Future Tense
The Citizen's Guide to the Future

Oct. 25 2016 5:37 PM

Amnesty International Slams Snapchat and Skype for Not Encrypting Messages

Amnesty International says digital encryption is a human right because it’s vital to unimpeded communication of activists and journalists.

Oct. 25 2016 4:46 PM

Car Hackers Won’t Want to Kill You. They’ll Want to Rob You!

On Monday, the U.S. Department of Transportation released a new list of “best practices” for cybersecurity in vehicles, designed to prod carmakers toward securing cars from hackers.

Those include corporate changes, such as hiring high-level cybersecurity managers and embracing greater openness about flaws and vulnerabilities. More interestingly, the guide includes some technical suggestions for Detroit, such as:

  • Everything the car does should be logged so that the method and consequence of a breach is recorded.
  • A key or password obtained from open access to one vehicle’s computer should not provide access to multiple vehicles.
  • Limit or eliminate post-production access to the software in “engine control units,” or ECUs. Physically hiding access—a PIN code inside the glove compartment, say—is not a sufficient form of protection, the report emphasizes.

Does that all sound obvious? It hasn’t been to carmakers. In August, security researchers were able to use a single Volkswagen to extract a cryptographic key that could unlock millions of its peers.

Oct. 25 2016 12:35 PM

Update Your iPhone Right Now to Guard Against Malicious JPEGs

Apple’s new iOS 10.1 update patches a security hole that would allow malicious JPEGs to hack iPhones. The iPhone user would simply have to look at the image—not download it— to potentially spark “arbitrary code execution,” as Apple announced Monday.

Oct. 24 2016 6:02 PM

Chinese Company Recalls Webcams, Other Products After DDoS Attack

A Chinese electronics company called Hangzhou Xiongmai Technology is recalling webcams and other devices that were targeted in a distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack on Friday. The attack, which hit the domain name system services company Dyn, prevented millions of users from accessing websites and apps including Twitter and WhatsApp.

Oct. 24 2016 4:34 PM

Washington Post Reports Huge Surge in Secret Electronic Surveillance Requests

According to new data published Monday by the Washington Post, secret law enforcement requests for electronic surveillance have increased significantly in federal courts in the last decade—but only 1 in 1,000 of those these requests has become publicly available.

The Washington Post’s data looked at two federal courts—one in Northern Virginia and one for the District of Columbia. According to the Post’s report, these two courts are some of the most active in the country and are the only ones to disclose any surveillance information.


Oct. 24 2016 4:01 PM

Even the Thought of Uber’s Traffic-Taunting Drones Is Too Much

Drones are cool when they’re racing. Drones are cool when they perform ballet. Drones are especially cool when they’re delivering pizza. But drones are not cool when they’re bobbing up in down in traffic, bearing smug signs telling drivers that they should’ve carpooled instead.

Oct. 24 2016 1:12 PM

AI “Judge” Can Predict Rulings in Human Rights Cases 

Researchers from University College London have developed an artificial intelligence algorithm that predicted the outcome of cases that came before the European Court of Human Rights with 79 percent accuracy.

Oct. 21 2016 6:41 PM

How Low-G Coffee Cups Could Help Get Us to Mars

If you’re a coffee lover, there’s nothing quite as enjoyable as sitting by a window and watching the sunrise, hot mug of java in hand. But until recently, caffeine-loving astronauts have had to check their hot beverage sipping habits at the airlock. Despite the installation of an espresso maker on the International Space Station, and what is arguably the greatest window view in the solar system, the ISS crew has been stuck sipping beverages from a pouch. Floating spheres of scalding hot liquid are an operational hazard.

That may change with the invention of a new coffee cup by mechanical engineering professor Mark Weislogel and his team at Portland State University. In this video from NASA, Weislogel describes how the unique geometry of the cup—it looks like the offspring of a demitasse and a gravy boat after a topological deformation—takes advantage of surface tension to keep hot liquids from floating free. Normally overwhelmed and masked by gravity on Earth, Weislogel says surface tension and capillary forces create a gradient such that when astronauts puts their lips to the cup, the liquid inside is driven into their mouths. ISS crew members are seen passing cups filled with hot coffee to one another, the vessels tumbling through the air without losing a drop.


Although it cannot be denied they contribute to crew morale, space lattes are really just a proof of concept prototype. There are real challenges to designing fluid systems—such as refrigeration, or waste and fuel management—that will work when you cannot count on gravity to direct the fluid, Weislogel says. By studying how geometry can stand in for gravity and control liquids in microgravity, Weislogel and his team hope to create more reliable, passive systems necessary for long term space flight. A failure in your potable water system on the ISS means no espresso for a while—but on a voyage to Mars, it could be fatal.

Oct. 21 2016 4:53 PM

The Unexpected Beauty of Burning Steel Wool

Normally, oxidation is boring: You leave a wet steel wool scrubbing pad on your sink and a few days later you wind up with a rusty pad and a stain on your counter. But speed the oxidation up a bit—say, with a blowtorch—and you get a light show to rival the best fireworks display.

In this video, the folks at Macro Room turn their highly focused attention on the burning tendrils of clumps of steel wool—as well as a few choice props. Iconic Pokémon Pikachu sits in the midst of a cloud of electric spark, while a wooden figure holds a cloud of orange-hot traces of incandescent steel. A wicker man miniature in hi-def. There are moments where the burning metal seems almost alive, the sparkling lights the synapses of some strange brain.


In the final scene, a clump of steel wool is attached to a small motor, ignited, and spun to creating a burning ring of fire spitting orange sparks in every direction. Some (rather brave) people attempt a similar trick with large clumps of burning steel wool spun like fire poir at the end of a rope, making for some incredible still photography. This video shows these fiery metal filaments might well be their most beautiful seen through the aperture of a macro lens.

Oct. 21 2016 4:06 PM

Google Changed a Major Privacy Policy Four Months Ago, and No One Really Noticed

For almost 10 years, Google promised to protect users’ privacy from advertisers by keeping personally identifiable information about its users, gleaned from Gmail accounts and other Google services, separate from its subsidiary DoubleClick’s database of web-browsing records.

But the company quietly updated its privacy policy in June to say that users’ activities on other sites “may be associated with your personal information,” ProPublica reported Friday. Google’s previous privacy policy, which is literally crossed through in front of its new one in Google’s new privacy policy, had pledged to “not combine DoubleClick cookie information with personally identifiable information” without users’ consent.