Category: Technology

Don’t Blame Me, Blame My Brain Implant

brain-implant

Probes that can transmit electricity inside the skull raise questions about personal autonomy and responsibility. (Credit: Hellerhoff, CC BY-SA)

Mr. B loves Johnny Cash, except when he doesn’t. Mr. X has watched his doctors morph into Italian chefs right before his eyes.

The link between the two? Both Mr. B and Mr. X received deep brain stimulation (DBS), a procedure involving an implant that sends electric impulses to specific targets in the brain to alter neural activity. While brain implants aim to treat neural dysfunction, cases like these demonstrate that they may influence an individual’s perception of the world and behavior in undesired ways. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Technology, Top Posts
MORE ABOUT: medical technology

Should We Worry About Computer Algorithms’ ‘Mental Health’?

By Thomas T. Hills | March 26, 2018 11:12 am
computuer-AI

(Credit: Shutterstock)

Is my car hallucinating? Is the algorithm that runs the police surveillance system in my city paranoid? Marvin the android in Douglas Adams’s Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy had a pain in all the diodes down his left-hand side. Is that how my toaster feels?

This all sounds ludicrous until we realize that our algorithms are increasingly being made in our own image. As we’ve learned more about our own brains, we’ve enlisted that knowledge to create algorithmic versions of ourselves. These algorithms control the speeds of driverless cars, identify targets for autonomous military drones, compute our susceptibility to commercial and political advertising, find our soulmates in online dating services, and evaluate our insurance and credit risks. Algorithms are becoming the near-sentient backdrop of our lives. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Technology, Top Posts

Hold Off Dyeing Your Hair With Graphene Nanoparticles

By Andrew Maynard, Arizona State University | March 20, 2018 3:56 pm
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Subbing new risks for the current dyes’ dangers? (Credit: Evgeny Savchenko/Shutterstock)

Graphene is something of a celebrity in the world of nanoscale materials. Isolated in 2004 by Nobel Prize winners Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov, these ultrathin sheets of carbon atoms are already finding novel uses in areas like electronics, high-efficiency heating systems, water purification technologies and even golf balls. According to recent research published in the journal Chem, hair dyes can now be added to this list.

But how safe and responsible is this new use of the carbon-based wonder-material?

Northwestern University’s press release proudly announced, “Graphene finds new application as nontoxic, anti-static hair dye.” The announcement spawned headlines like “Enough with the toxic hair dyes. We could use graphene instead,” and “’Miracle material’ graphene used to create the ultimate hair dye.” Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Technology, Top Posts
MORE ABOUT: materials science

Computers Learn to Imagine the Future

By Garrett Kenyon | February 28, 2018 12:37 pm
shutterstock_170532959

Predicting the future position of objects comes natural for humans, but it is quite difficult for a computer. (Credit: Shutterstock)

In many ways, the human brain is still the best computer around. For one, it’s highly efficient. Our largest supercomputers require millions of watts, enough to power a small town, but the human brain uses approximately the same energy as a 20-watt bulb. While teenagers may seem to take forever to learn what their parents regard as basic life skills, humans and other animals are also capable of learning very quickly. Most of all, the brain is truly great at sorting through torrents of data to find the relevant information to act on.

At an early age, humans can reliably perform feats such as distinguishing an ostrich from a school bus, for instance – an achievement that seems simple, but illustrates the kind a task that even our most powerful computer vision systems can get wrong. We can also tell a moving car from the static background and predict where the car will be in the next half-second. Challenges like these, and far more complex ones, expose the limitations in our ability to make computers think like people do. But recent research at Los Alamos National Laboratory is changing all that. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Technology, Top Posts

Space Wars Will Look Nothing Like Star Wars

By Nathaniel Scharping | February 15, 2018 12:22 pm
(Credit: Adam Hartman/U.S. Navy)

(Credit: Adam Hartman/U.S. Navy)

Darting spaceships. Dazzling lasers. Fiery explosions. All of these are things that a war in space would almost certainly not involve.

Ever since Star Wars, the public has been fascinated by the visuals of space conflict — it’s futuristic, thrilling, and cosmic battles are bereft of the gore that so often accompanies terrestrial conflict. And ever since Sputnik, humans have been putting things into space, pieces of technology that are now vital cogs in the machinery of society. We rely on satellites for everything from credit card transactions to mapping apps. The military needs satellites for communication, as well as for the imaging that lets them keep an eye on friend and foe alike.

Therefore, forget about the Death Star, this amalgamation of blinking hardware floating in Earth’s orbit would be target numero uno. But would it be wise to pull the trigger? Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Space & Physics, Technology

A Startup Mentality Gives Public Research a Lift

By Ian Graber-Stiehl | February 5, 2018 5:28 pm
startup

(Credit: Shutterstock)

Earlier this month, the U.S. Department of Defense became the latest agency to adopt a burgeoning start-up boot camp pioneered by the National Science Foundation’s Errol Arkilic.

In 2011, Arkilic reached out to Steve Blank, a Stanford University professor who would soon be one of Silicon Valley’s most influential innovators.

“I’ve been reading your blog,” Arkilic told Blank. He had 10,000 scientists hoping to turn their research into tech startups. Blank’s mission, should he choose to accept it, would be to develop a program that ensure they succeeded. “Oh by the way, there’s no funding for you.”

Blank had sharpened his business acumen as a serial entrepreneur, founding and fostering eight startups himself, four of which, (the last being the customer relations software company Epiphany, Inc.) eventually went public. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Technology, Top Posts

Long Before Amazon Go, There Was Keedoozle

By Carl Engelking | January 23, 2018 12:38 pm
keedoozle

A customer turns her key at a Keedoozle. (via Afflictor)

Maslow’s motivational pyramid is but a house of cards if we don’t eat. And ever since we started shoving sustenance into our gullets, our species has devised means to do it faster—lest we beleaguer our journey to transcendence.

In 2011, a team of archaeologists working near Kenya’s Lake Turkana unearthed several stone tools in sediment that was 3.3 million years old; they were the oldest ever found. From this starting point chiseled from stone, the parabolic arc of meal-gathering technology—arrowheads, taming wheat, spears, domesticating goats, irrigation, barcode scanners—has traced a path squarely through the turnstiles of Amazon Go. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Technology, Top Posts
MORE ABOUT: computers, robots

Blockchain Technologies Could Help You Profit from Green Energy

By Srinivasan Keshav, University of Waterloo | January 8, 2018 1:04 pm
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Blockchain technologies could help homeowners sell their green electricity to their neighbors. (Credit: Shutterstock)

Imagine buying a solar panel from a hardware store, mounting it on your roof, then selling the green electricity you produce at a price you set.

Is this even possible? Some companies certainly think so. These startups are harnessing the power of blockchains to democratize green power.

Before you can understand how blockchains are part of the solution, you first need to know a few things about the green electricity market. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Environment, Technology, Top Posts

Is Your Computer Being ‘Cryptojacked’?

By Bill Buchanan, Edinburgh Napier University | December 20, 2017 12:42 pm
File 20171218 27544 1no0fzc.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1

What’s going on in your computer? (Credit: Shutterstock)

Nothing comes for free, especially online. Websites and apps that don’t charge you for their services are often collecting your data or bombarding you with advertising. Now some sites have found a new way to make money from you: using your computer to generate virtual currencies.

Several video streaming sites and the popular file sharing network The Pirate Bay have allegedly been “cryptojacking” their users’ computers in this way, as has the free WiFi provider in a Starbucks cafe in Argentina. Users may object to this, especially if it slows down their computers. But given how hard it is for most companies to make money from online advertising, it might be something we have to get used to – unless we want to start paying more for things. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Technology, Top Posts

Indigenous People are Deploying Drones to Preserve Land and Traditions

By K. N. Smith | December 11, 2017 10:00 am
Fixedwing-drone-Panama_Credit-FAO-Panama

(Credit: FAO Panama)

Indigenous tribes from the Pacific Northwest to the Amazon Basin face a similar set of challenges: How to manage their lands, defend against corporate encroachment and document historic and religious sites for future generations. Often working with limited resources, many indigenous groups are turning to drones to protect and preserve their traditional lands.

Many Central and South American countries have laws that, on paper, limit what companies can do on indigenous lands. But enforcement is hit-or-miss. To make their voices heard, indigenous tribes must go to the government with solid evidence that shows the land is theirs and laws are being broken.

Drones can help gather that evidence. In two separate programs, indigenous communities in both Panama and Guyana are using drones to help monitor deforestation, document their own land use, and fight illegal encroachment into their territories.

Reclaiming What’s Theirs

In Guyana, members of the Wapichan tribe ride motorbikes along bumpy forest roads, drones tucked safely inside their backpacks. They’re heading toward an illegal gold mining operation on the tribe’s land, where workers are clearing away the rainforest and allowing pollutants to run into the Wapichan’s water sources. The drone team will photograph the site from above, creating a mosaic of aerial photos that can be used to defend the tribe’s land in court.

The Wapichan tribe built its own fixed-wing drone in 2014 to patrol its territory from above. Gregor MacLennan, a program director for the nonprofit organization Digital Democracy, and tribe members relied on YouTube videos and online forums to help assemble the drone.

While MacLennan brought some tools and electronic components with him to Guyana, most of the drone’s body was improvised from materials in the village. In part, so the drone was repairable with whatever was on hand in the event of damage. The drone features a motor mount made of plastic cut from an old beer crate.

Since then, the Wapichan program has acquired a few Parrot Bebop quadcopters. And the program has already shown some results: In 2015, a Wapichan drone team spotted an illegal logging operation on the Brazilian border, where settlers often encroach. They also found evidence that the Marudi Mountain gold mine was leaking pollution into Wapichan water sources.

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The Wapichan tribe built a fixed-wing drone with many items from the village. That way, it could be easily repaired if it it got damaged. (Credit: Digital Democracy/Gregor MacLennan)

Within the next year, the tribe’s drone team hopes to fly a mission every month or two. They especially want to focus on the mining area around Marudi Mountain, tracking its rate of deforestation.

Meanwhile, seven of Panama’s largest indigenous tribes—the BriBri, Buglé, Emberá, Kuna, Naso, Ngäbe and Wounaan—have teamed up with the United Nations (U.N.) program Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation, or UN-REDD. Through this partnership, a combination of technology and local knowledge will help monitor indigenous lands and curb the trend of forest loss. Since February 2016, volunteers from each tribe have been learning to design flight plans, pilot drones and use aerial data to produce detailed maps of tribal lands. The first flight took off from the indigenous territory of Madugandí, near Panama’s northeastern coast, in April 2016.

Equipped with a smartphone app and GIS training from the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, which runs UN-REDD, volunteers from local indigenous communities on the ground look for freshly-cleared areas of forest—the calling card of mining, logging or ranching operations encroaching on tribal lands. Marking the GPS coordinates in the app flags the area for a drone mission so the three-person drone team can map and photograph the site from the air.

“After that, we move to the area, which sometimes is located quite far, about two hours away from a road,” says Rafael Valdespino, a trained drone technician from the territory of Emberá-Wounaan in Panama. The country’s rainy season makes ground surveys practically impossible for roughly six months, and can thwart even satellites, so the drones’ ability to cover remote areas from above makes them vital tools for forest monitoring.

Some of Valdespino’s fellow technicians have already helped develop maps and other documents to support land claims their communities plan to file with the Panamanian government. Some technicians have already held workshops on drone use in Guatemala and Peru, with plans to expand to Paraguay before 2018.

“I encourage other indigenous communities to replicate this project and offer all our support,” says Valdespino.

Mutual Accountability

Thousands of miles north, the 2016 standoff between indigenous activists and Dakota Access, LLC was in full swing. The two sides were at odds over construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL), near the Standing Rock Reservation in North Dakota. The conflict provided a high-profile example of how indigenous filmmakers and photographers could use drones to document key events and raise awareness of their struggle to maintain land rights.

Drones were essential to the story at Standing Rock, capturing footage that drew national attention to Standing Rock and helped shape the unfolding narrative. But the drones also sparked tense encounters with law enforcement. The DAPL protest is one of the first major events where indigenous people were, in part, in control of the story. And that is significant, says Myron Dewey, a drone pilot, filmmaker, and member of the Paiute and Shoshone tribes.

MyronDewey-dapl-drone-indigenous

Myron Dewey flew drones during the ongoing Stand Rock protests—he believes a drone of his was shot down by local police officers. (Credit: Myron Dewey)

“Being indigenous, it’s very important that we document our own stories, because for too long, our stories have been documented for us, and so it changes the narrative,” he says. “And because of the drones, I was able to do that.”

Drones also provided a layer of security and accountability for the protesters during the tense—and sometimes violent—confrontations with law enforcement and private security.

In August 2016, he says, “I documented two of the security that were harassing people going into camps, from 3 miles away.” And having “eyes always on the people” meant that the protesters had a heightened sense of accountability for their own actions, as well.

And the drone “was used ceremonially. It was smudged, it was blessed, it was sent up, it was taken care of, and it took care of us,” Dewey says.

Not Always A Struggle

Drones are also empowering indigenous groups around the world to make better-informed decisions about their own land management. From documenting the preservation of important historical and sacred sites to monitoring wildlife populations and land-use patterns, these tools give indigenous tribes greater autonomy—they don’t have to rely on outside agencies or groups to monitor their lands and make ecological decisions.

For instance, the drones patrolling Panama’s forests will eventually also help monitor forest fires, harvests from farmland, and the status of water sources. “The combination of land and remote sensing monitoring allows us to know the dynamics of loss, degradation, and restoration of forest cover,” says Valdespino.

drone-panama-indigenous

Rafael Valdespino, assisting the drone as it takes flight, and other drone technicians have used unmanned aircraft to monitor forests in Panama. Some have used data gathered from drones to help support land claims. (Credit: FAO Panama)

In Washington state, entomologist and Colville Confederated Tribes member Nathan Moses-Gonzales hopes to use drones for wildlife monitoring on the Colville Reservation. Previously, the Colville Confederated Tribes used a full-sized manned aircraft to conduct salmon research missions. But the areas surrounding canyons make it difficult for airplanes to get good views, so the tribe is looking to drones.

“Moving ahead, I think [drones offer] strong options for the tribal members to begin to take over their own initiatives and to support their own research locally with tribal members and with tribal support,” Moses-Gonzales says.

Dewey plans to return to a project he started before he brought his drones to Standing Rock, working with state officials to document Paiute and Shoshone historical and sacred sites from the air. “Our battle in Nevada now isn’t water, but also the deforestation of our traditional harvesting areas,” he says.

Using 360-degree drone technology, Dewey also hopes to give Paiute elders a virtual tour of the places that mean so much to them and their people.

But the use of drone technology by indigenous people is not just about the past, or even the present. Much of it is also looking toward the future. Drones have the ability to carry traditional ways of life into the future, possibly bringing technology-based jobs to reservations and helping spark preservation-interest in tribal youth.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Environment, Technology
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