Science and Technology

Cleaning Up the Airwaves

AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin
AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin Tom Wheeler, President Barack Obama's nominee to lead the Federal Communications Comission L ast week, President Obama announced he would nominate his good friend and venture capitalist Tom Wheeler to lead the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). Wheeler will replace another Obama good friend and venture capitalist, Julius Genachowski, who leaves in his wake an agency more embattled than ever. In announcing the nomination, the president noted that Wheeler is “the only member of both the cable television and the wireless industry hall of fame. So he’s like the Jim Brown of telecom or the Bo Jackson of telecom”; Wheeler was president of the National Cable Television Association (NCTA) from 1979 to 1984, and CEO of the Cellular Telecommunications & Internet Association (CTIA) from 1992 to 2004. He is currently managing director of Core Capital Partners, a venture-capital firm, and he has been a prolific fundraiser for the president. By all accounts...

The STEM-Shortage Myth

Flickr/jasonandrebecca09
Flickr/jasonandrebecca09 The Economic Policy Institute published a report yesterday on the supposed shortage of professionals in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). You've probably heard of the crisis by now. America is not producing enough STEM degrees. This will be the death of innovation and global competitiveness. We must reorient higher education to convert more liberal arts students into STEM students. And so on. The problem with this alleged crisis is that it is not real. As the EPI report lays bare, the common wisdom about our STEM problem is mistaken: We are not facing a shortage of STEM-qualified workers. In fact, we appear to have a considerable STEM surplus. Only half of students graduating with a STEM degree are able to find STEM jobs. Beyond that, if there was an actual shortage of STEM workers, basic supply and demand would predict that the wages of STEM workers would be on the rise. Instead, wages in STEM fields have not budged in over a decade. Stagnant...

Dissecting Donglegate

Flickr/Chuckumentary
Flickr/Chuckumentary When is a dick joke not just a dick joke? That’s the question at the heart of what’s being called “Donglegate,” the latest tech-industry skirmish in the ongoing battle over the sector's rampant sexism. The answer: When it's scientifically proven to impair a woman's ability to do her job. First, the basics: Tech professional Adria Richards was attending an industry conference called PyCon. Earlier that day, a fellow (male) attendee had made a joke to her about looking up women's skirts. She knew that such sexual comments were against PyCon's explicit community standards and tried to address it with him, to no avail. Later, when she heard some men sitting behind her cracking jokes about the size of their "dongles," she tried a different approach. She snapped a photo of the men and tweeted it, along with her location in the hall and a complaint about their behavior, to the attention of conference organizers. To their credit, PyCon officials took her tweet seriously...

The Internet's Patriot Act

flickr/IronCurtaiNYC
AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill, File “I believe that it is very possible,” former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta told a rapt audience at Georgetown University earlier this month, “the next Pearl Harbor could be a cyber attack that would have one hell of an impact on the United States of America.” That’s a belief Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano shares—in January, she urged Congress not to “wait until there is a 9/11 in the cyber world” to act on cyber-security legislation. Subtle warnings, these are not. Over the past 12 months, hackers have broken into the networks of major news organizations, including The New York Times , The Washington Post , and The Wall Street Journal in a string of audacious security breaches. The U.S. Government Accountability Office found that cyber-security incidents reported by federal agencies have risen 800 percent since 2006. Chinese hackers infiltrated the networks of nearly 800 U.S. companies and research institutions between 2000 and 2010,...

The Internet’s Patriot Act

flickr/IronCurtaiNYC
AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill, File “I believe that it is very possible,” former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta told a rapt audience at Georgetown University earlier this month, “the next Pearl Harbor could be a cyber attack that would have one hell of an impact on the United States of America.” That’s a belief Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano shares—in January, she urged Congress not to “wait until there is a 9/11 in the cyber world” to act on cyber-security legislation. Subtle warnings, these are not. Over the past 12 months, hackers have broken into the networks of major news organizations, including The New York Times , The Washington Post , and The Wall Street Journal in a string of audacious security breaches. The U.S. Government Accountability Office found that cyber-security incidents reported by federal agencies have risen 800 percent since 2006. Chinese hackers infiltrated the networks of nearly 800 U.S. companies and research institutions between 2000 and 2010,...

Augmented Reality Is Here, and It's Right on Your Face

You must be at least this cool to buy Google Glass.
There are some technological developments that come as a complete surprise, and some that are logical extrapolations of what we've had for a while, so obvious that we know we'll eventually get them, it's just a matter of the development of the necessary components. A wearable augmented reality device falls into the latter category. For years, we've been seeing sci-fi movies in which a character looks out at the world, or at a person, and sees a whole bunch of information pop up in front of his eyes (the best-known example is probably The Terminator , which came out in all the way back in 1984). But as of now, you can actually get one. Well, maybe not you specifically, but somebody. Google Glass, which is essentially a smartphone in the shape of a pair of glasses that are, depending on your perspective, totally cool-looking or remarkably dorky, is going on sale. You won't be able to go down to Target and buy a pair, though; for this first run, you have to actually apply to Google, and...

Pasting the Web

A recent flare-up over Twitter's URL shortener demonstrates one of the little ways we're letting the Internet get away from us. 

Flickr/The Next Web
Flickr/The Next Web S hort-linking—that act of repackaging ungainly, often ugly strings of letters, numbers, ampersands, and question marks into elegantly tiny URLs—has been around for more than a decade, but only gained mainstream traction with the 2006 launch of Twitter and its capping of tweet-length at 140 characters. While the mechanics are complicated, the short story about the recent techie flare-up over short-linking is that Twitter has moved away from third-party shorteners to its own , the use of which is now mandatory for all links shared directly on the service. For the uninitiated, here's an example: Long link for this piece: https://prospect.org/article/its-not-you-its-web Short link for this piece: http://ow.ly/hxzVa It's been a small shift, little noticed by most, but now that trading links on social media— Hey, check out this video of Hillary yelling at Republicans! —is a main feature of the Internet-connected world, short-links are part of the real fabric of the web...

I Can Haz Internet Freedom?

Michael Gottschalk/dapd
AP Photo/Matt Dunham) Anonymous supporters wearing Guy Fawkes masks hold a banner as they take part in a protest outside Britain's Houses of Parliament in London, Monday, November 5, 2012. The protest was held on November 5 to coincide with the failed 1605 gunpowder plot to blow up the House of Lords. T wo weeks ago today, a line was crossed. Two weeks ago today, Aaron Swartz was killed. Killed because he faced an impossible choice. Killed because he was forced into playing a game he could not win—a twisted and distorted perversion of justice—a game where the only winning move was not to play. That message greeted visitors to the United States Sentencing Commission website the evening of January 25. The words were part of a ten-minute video manifesto embedded on the homepage of the commission, responsible for writing the sentencing policies and guidelines for federal courts. The death of the Internet savant and information activist Aaron Swartz, who took his own life due at least in...

Free "Super-Wifi" Everywhere? Don't Hold Your Breath.

Flickr/CollegeDegrees360
We spend a lot of time arguing about whether government should be big or small, which is almost always the wrong question. Among the right questions are how government should go about doing what it has to do, and on whose behalf it ought to operate. I bring this up because of a proposal by the Federal Communications Commission, discussed in this article in today's Washington Post , to open up a big chunk of spectrum to spread wifi hither and yon, potentially creating a nirvana of free internet and cell phone access. Sound too good to be true? Yeah, it is. But here's how the Post described it: The federal government wants to create super WiFi networks across the nation, so powerful and broad in reach that consumers could use them to make calls or surf the Internet without paying a cellphone bill every month. The proposal from the Federal Communications Commission has rattled the $178 billion wireless industry, which has launched a fierce lobbying effort to persuade policymakers to...

Aaron Swartz’s Final Code

The death of an Internet freedom activist points to the future of popular resistance.

AP Photo/ThoughtWorks, Pernille Ironside
Flickr/okfn W hen I first became aware of Aaron Swartz about a year ago, I really felt like a dope. I had reported a story for the Prospect about online piracy, and so joined the foolhardy who ponder what the digital age meant for copyright law’s central tension—the vital act of sharing information versus the fair expectation of artists, intellectuals, and entertainers to be compensated when their creations get shared. I understood at least this much: The Internet had essentially reduced the cost of reproduction to zero (which heavily favored information, and seriously distressed creators) and in doing so, exploded an already fraught arrangement into atomic complexity. But I also thought I’d identified one clear-cut foe of intellectual freedom. Countless times foraging online for story ideas, I’d land on a journal article that I knew revealed a conceptual plain ripe for the cultivating powers of hard-hitting reporting, only to find all but the first page locked within JSTOR, a digital...

Faulty Hypothesis

Flickr/Pacific Northwest National Laboratory
One of the great political shifts in the past decade has been the move of scientists toward the Democratic Party, a casualty of the Republican Party’s war on reality. It’s not about politics for scientists, it’s about the fact that only one party accepts scientific findings on everything from global warming to evolutionary theory to what does and doesn’t prevent pregnancy. Only 6 percent of scientists identify as Republican , whereas 55 percent identify as Democratic. In October of 2012, 68 Nobel-winning scientists co-signed a strong endorsement of Obama, saying the President “has delivered on his promise to renew our faith in science-based decision making.” Which is why it was so strange to read Daniel Sarewitz, co-director of the Consortium for Science, Policy, and Outcomes at Arizona State University, argue in Nature that it’s wrong for scientists to throw their weight behind electing Democrats. Sarewitz’s opening sentence lays out his argument neatly: To prevent science from...

We've Traced the Call. It's Coming From ... Inside Your Pocket!

Let's take a momentary break from the fiscal insanity that has possessed Washington of late, and talk about something else you can be afraid of. Question: do you have anti-virus software on your smartphone? Probably not, because while it will take about 10 seconds for an unprotected computer connected to the internet to be infected with all manner of malware, hackers haven't devoted much energy to targeting people's phones. Yet. But Popular Science predicts that phone hacking will be one of the big tech developments of 2013: For the most part, smartphones have escaped the viruses and botnets that have plagued desktop computers for decades. That luck may not hold out in 2013. The learning curves of cybersecurity professionals and cybercriminals track pretty closely. If the good guys have hacked iOS and Android, the bad guys will quickly follow. The first mobile malware attempted familiar invasions, stealing contact information and pictures from devices. But cybersecurity professionals...

Still No Strong Links Between Video Games and Violence

Videogamer.com
Videogamer.com A screenshot from Call of Duty 2: Black Ops. Yesterday, on Fox News Sunday, outgoing senator Joe Lieberman floated the recurring—and wrong—idea that violent video games play a part in mass shootings: “The violence in the entertainment culture – particularly, with the extraordinary realism to video games, movies now, et cetera – does cause vulnerable young men to be more violent,” Lieberman insisted. “Doesn’t make everybody more violent, but it’s a causative factor in some cases.” “We ought to ask the entertainment community, what are you going to do to tone that down,” Lieberman said of policymakers in Washington. I don’t know of any mass shooting where video games were a “causative” factor. What I do know, however, is that the available evidence provides only a tenuous link between playing violent video games and committing violent acts. Existing studies on the subject are all over the place: Some show an increase in the physiological signs of aggression when play...

This Goes Out to All the Ladies

(Gabriel Arana)
This past election, President Barack Obama made blatant appeals to female voters to great success. Fifty-five percent of women and a jaw-dropping 68 percent of single women voted for the president this round . Feminist and reproductive-rights groups especially campaigned hard, not just to reward him for some significant wins for women in office but because they widely believed that he could do even more in a second term, especially with 18 congressional seats swapping from anti- or mixed-choice to pro-choice . In other words, feminist-leaning women helped usher in Obama’s victory, and now they’re wondering how he intends to show his gratitude. Even though most of 2012 was a lovefest between feminists and the Obama administration, the administration came under plenty of fire from activists who felt he was often too quick to compromise. Some feminist organizations, like the National Organization for Women , denounced the president for signing an executive order barring insurance plans...

They'll Be Back

Robots, as yet unarmed, created for the military by Boston Dynamics.
Last week, Human Rights Watch released a report raising alarms about the specter of "killer robots." The report urged that we develop an international treaty to prohibit the development of fully autonomous robotic weapons systems that can make their own decisions about when to use deadly force. So is that day coming any time soon? The Pentagon wants everyone to know it has no plans to allow robots to make decisions on when to fire weapons; Spencer Ackerman at Wired points us to this memo from Deputy Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter released two days after the HRW report, making clear that the DoD's policy is that robots don't get to pull the trigger without a human being making the decision (or in bureacratic-speak, "Autonomous and semi-autonomous weapon systems shall be designed to allow commanders and operators to exercise appropriate levels of human judgment over the use of force"). It seems obvious that we don't want a bunch of Terminators walking through our streets deciding...

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