We’re long overdue, as a great many stories are unfolding. As is our oft-stated mission, we do the legwork, so you don’t have to.
What are some of the interesting goings-on of note this week?
- Can doing the right thing for its users get a company in serious legal trouble? When you’re Apple, anything’s possible.
- Wine, a subject near and dear to our hearts, is going all high-tech to maximize quality.
- Netflix, it appears, could be on its way to becoming the largest television network in the U.S.—and maybe the world.
- Over 18,000 scientists and technologists have signed an open letter against weaponized artificial intelligence, because the prospects of such an arms race are simply terrifying.
- Can cars be hacked? Talk about a driver’s worst nightmare.
Apple’s devotion is strong
Sometimes it’s hard to imagine that a huge corporation really cares about its customers, but in the case of Apple and the implementation of strong encryption on its products, an argument could be made.
We lauded Apple last year when, seemingly in direct response to widespread privacy violations conducted by the U.S. government, the company trumpeted its implementation of strong encryption in all of its products.
Strong encryption protects a user’s data. Said data can only be accessed by entering the correct user password.
In this era of hacking and identity theft, it’s actually comforting to know that if you are serious about your data, and you use a strong password, your data is safe. Safe, even from experienced hackers, and government entities like the Justice Department and the NSA.
In Apple’s implementation, only you know your password. The company cannot break into your data, so it therefore cannot share your data even if ordered to do so.
And there’s the rub. The U.S. government wants Apple to provide back doors to users’ devices, so that, in the case of criminal investigations, it can access data on defendants’ computers, smartphones, and tablets. Apple refuses to do so.
This week, a blog named Lawfare, theorized that Apple could be held liable, under the Antiterrorism Act (18 USC § 2333), for material support of terrorism. Suppose a terrorist commits a murderous act, and is captured and prosecuted. The government, of course, would want access to the terrorist’s phone or computer, but would be unable to access the terrorist’s data because Apple implemented unbreakable encryption.
Would Apple be liable for having supported that terrorist act? Seems like a reach, but you can be sure that very question will be tested in court.
Watch this space.
Tech on the vine
Some Italian wineries are installing networks of weatherproof, durable video cameras in their vineyards so that they can constantly monitor the conditions that control the quality of the grapes.
The cameras contain wireless transmitters that can connect together to form a network even in areas where connectivity and electrical power are at a minimum.
Without going on-site, winemakers can view the growing conditions of a great many more hectares of grapes than they might otherwise be able to do. And, by monitoring the conditions, they can optimize the use of chemicals and on-site agronomists, thus saving serious coin in the process.
Netflix to eclipse all other TV networks?
We think of Netflix as a movie streaming service, and have opined more than once that the company is a key piece in cutting the cable cord.
But it was a revelation when an article in Variety described why Netflix is poised to become the largest TV network in the world.
When one thinks of TV networks, one typically thinks of CBS, NBC, ABC, and Fox—very large and popular entertainment providers, no doubt.
The Variety article refers to a study conducted by Wall Street firm FBR Capital Markets. A quote from the article: “If Netflix were a Nielsen-rated TV network, the No. 1 streaming service would, within a year, attain a larger 24-hour audience than each of the major broadcast networks — ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC.”
Heady stuff for Netflix, worrisome for the networks, and possibly life-changing for the entertainment industry at large. This is definitely going to get content owners to rethink their strategies. Can we expect, in turn, the quality of streaming content on Netflix to get even better?
Designed to kill
The sight of military drones raining down death and destruction with pinpoint accuracy is scary enough. Imagine Terminator-style robots—autonomous weapons—unleashed in battle without human intervention.
Over 18,000 scientists and technologists, many of whom work in the robotics and artificial intelligence industry, signed an open letter asking nation states to avoid a weaponized artificial intelligence arms race.
The text of the letter and the full list of signatories can be found here. A quote from the open letter:
If any major military power pushes ahead with AI weapon development, a global arms race is virtually inevitable, and the endpoint of this technological trajectory is obvious: autonomous weapons will become the Kalashnikovs of tomorrow. Unlike nuclear weapons, they require no costly or hard-to-obtain raw materials, so they will become ubiquitous and cheap for all significant military powers to mass-produce. It will only be a matter of time until they appear on the black market and in the hands of terrorists, dictators wishing to better control their populace, warlords wishing to perpetrate ethnic cleansing, etc. Autonomous weapons are ideal for tasks such as assassinations, destabilizing nations, subduing populations and selectively killing a particular ethnic group. We therefore believe that a military AI arms race would not be beneficial for humanity. There are many ways in which AI can make battlefields safer for humans, especially civilians, without creating new tools for killing people.
Car hijacking for the new millennium
A Chrysler Jeep with the UConnect service has been hacked and remotely hijacked. A Wired reporter, Andy Greenberg, wrote a story about, and posted a video of, his Jeep Cherokee being hacked. Among other indignities, his brakes were disabled and his engine was shut down remotely, forcing him to find a highway ramp onto which he could exit from the highway.
This was part of a controlled experiment. Greenberg knew he was going to be hacked. He just didn’t know how badly.
The two hackers, Charlie Miller and Chris Valasek, reportedly took a year to discover and exploit the Uconnect flaw. They plan to provide more details at this month’s Black Hat security conference in Las Vegas. The flaw let them remotely install a malicious firmware update that gave them control of the vehicle.
Even more alarming, the hackers discovered that through any Sprint phone, they could find and track UConnect-equipped vehicles anywhere in the country.
The pair alerted Chrysler, and the company has instituted a recall of 1.4 million vehicles.
Almost makes you want to become Amish, eh?