Facial Recognition, a British Airways Hack, and More Security News This Week

Tech went to Washington this week, and their biggest problems followed them.

Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey and Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg faced Congress, and though Google CEO Larry Paige was invited, he declined to make the trip—a move that didn’t ingratiate him with Congressional watchdog Mark Warner. One uninvited guest did make an appearance at the hearings, however: Alex Jones. He heckled Dorsey and a CNN reporter, and was captured by a photographer’s lens for what is one of the most perfect (and surreal) photos of 2018. Though Jones’ DC antics were mild compared with his past bad behavior, being that physically close to his trolling seems to have finally woken up Dorsey; Twitter permanently banned Jones the next day.

In other Washington news, Jon Kyl heads to DC to take John McCain’s Arizona senate seat. Kyl is of particular interest to people in Silicon Valley, as he’s the [...]  read more


The 19th Century Argument for a 21st Century Space Force

Government sclerosis is no match for the hot take industrial complex. Since President Trump ordered the Department of Defense to prepare for a sixth military branch in June—an order that has stalled, since it requires congressional approval—the debate over this proposed Space Force has become so clouded by partially-informed, mostly-partisan rhetoric, there’s barely enough light for an honest appraisal.

The bare facts are these: The American military has operated in space for over half a century, and Trump’s Space Force is one of several proposals for how—not whether—to continue its orbital commitment. So, forget Moon bases, battles for Mars, and dogfights through the asteroid belt. Moot your hot-blooded support, sputtering antagonism, or news-numbed apathy to whatever any politician says. And please, stop chuckling at the name. The Space Force deserves your unclouded consideration. America’s role in humanity’s accelerando of space-based science, exploration, [...]  read more

Wisconsin’s Floods Are Catastrophic—and Only Getting Worse

An entire summer’s worth of rain has fallen across a broad swath of the Midwest in recent days. The resulting record floods have wrecked homes and altered the paths of rivers, in one case destroying a waterfall in Minnesota. The worst-affected region, southwest Wisconsin, has received more than 20 inches of rain in 15 days– more than it usually gets in six months.

Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin declared a statewide emergency last week, mobilizing the Wisconsin National Guard to assist flood victims if necessary. The Kickapoo River in southwest Wisconsin rose to record levels — as high as six feet above the previous high water mark — producing damage that local emergency management officials described as “breathtaking.”

In the tiny Wisconsin town of Gays Mills, this is the third catastrophic flood in 10 years. After floods a decade ago, about a quarter of the residents left, and the town was partially rebuilt on higher ground. But this time around is even [...]  read more

The Hidden Link Between Farm Antibiotics and Human Illness

For almost seven decades, we’ve routinely fed antibiotics to the animals we eat. That’s just a few years less than we’ve taken antibiotics ourselves. And for just about as long, it’s been clear that those antibiotic doses have been creating drug-resistant bacteria that pass from meat animals to make humans sick.

The first outbreaks of drug-resistant foodborne illness were spotted as early as the mid 1950s, when an epidemic of resistant salmonella swept through southeastern England. That was the first of waves of outbreaks that occurred over decades, some small and some very large and widespread. One of the largest foodborne outbreaks in US history, which made 634 people in 29 states and Puerto Rico sick in 2013-14, was tracked back to chickens that had been given antibiotics in their feed.

Maryn McKenna (@marynmck) is an Ideas contributor for WIRED, a senior [...]  read more

How ‘Searching’ Nails Our Online Anxieties

One of the more charming slices of ‘90s-era web-culture ephemera is Pizza.net, the fake pie-delivery site frequented by Sandra Bullock’s hacker in 1995’s The Net. Though glimpsed only briefly in the movie, Pizza.net was clearly among the chillest faux-online services of the Clinton era. Check out its easy-clicking interface, its friction-free payment plan! The experience of using Pizza.net is so mellow, it will inspire you to throw on a flannel and cue up some Annie Lennox.

The Net was released back when Hollywood was still trying to combine high drama with high baud rates, resulting in movies like Hackers, Masterminds, the still-quite-charming Sneakers. Twenty years later, these films—and the technology they employed—are amusing for all sorts of reasons: Their clunkiness, their design, their forced edginess. And while these films were supposed to be thrillers, [...]  read more

Fake Beto O’Rourke Texts Expose New Playground for Trolls

A screenshot of the suspicious text message began making the rounds on social media Wednesday.

“Hi, it’s Patsy here w/Beto for Texas. Our records indicate that you’re a supporter,” the text message read, purportedly coming from a volunteer for Texas Senate hopeful Beto O’Rourke’s campaign. “We are in search of volunteers to help transport undocumented immigrants to polling booths so that they will be able to vote. Would you be able to support this grassroots effort?”

The text did originate from a service called Relay, which O’Rourke’s volunteers use to contact potential voters. But the message itself—promoting overt voter fraud—wasn’t sanctioned by the campaign. “It was sent by an impostor,” O’Rourke’s communications director Chris Evans said in a statement. The opposing Ted Cruz campaign has said they had nothing to do with it either. Within a day, Relay shut down the account [...]  read more

Elon Musk’s Weed-Toking Goodwill Tour Isn’t Enough to Save Tesla

The thing to remember about Elon Musk smoking a blunt with Joe Rogan is not that he took just one hit, or that he didn’t seem to know what a blunt was, or that he whiffed on an opportunity to show off just how useful his “not a flamethrower” can be. It’s that it came 130 minutes into his two-and-a-half-hour interview with Rogan, for the former Fear Factor host’s podcast, livestreamed on YouTube.

Two hours in which Musk got to play the most popular version of himself: the far-out thinking engineer who doesn’t conform to the status quo. Two hours in which he whoa’d Rogan with cogent breakdowns of the threat and promise of artificial intelligence, his plan to obliterate traffic with underground tunnels, and his enlightened fear of chimpanzees. Musk talked about his idea for an electric, supersonic [...]  read more

Gadget Lab Podcast: Can Facebook and Twitter Be ‘Fixed?’

Facebook and Twitter went to Washington. Almost immediately afterwards, controversial Internet troll Alex Jones was kicked off Twitter. Now what? WIRED senior writer Issie Laposwky joins the Gadget Lab podcast this week to break down the Senate Intelligence Committee hearings, tell us what it means for Facebook and Twitter (and Google – which didn’t send its CEO to the hearings), and to help us answer the question that’s become one of the more pressing questions in modern times: Is social media to blame, or are the humans who do terrible things on social media to blame?

Show notes: Issie wrote all about the hearings, as well as Alex Jones getting booted off Twitter, this week.

Recommendations this week: Issie recommends the Dr. Death podcast, about murderous surgeon and the health care system that failed to protect his patients. Mike recommends a podcast, too:  [...]  read more

AI Can Recognize Images, But Text Has Been Tricky—Until Now

In 2012, artificial intelligence researchers revealed a big improvement in computers’ ability to recognize images by feeding a neural network millions of labeled images from a database called ImageNet. It ushered in an exciting phase for computer vision, as it became clear that a model trained using ImageNet could help tackle all sorts of image-recognition problems. Six years later, that’s helped pave the way for self-driving cars to navigate city streets and Facebook to automatically tag people in your photos.

In other arenas of AI research, like understanding language, similar models have proved elusive. But recent research from fast.ai, OpenAI, and the Allen Institute for AI suggests a potential breakthrough, with more robust language models that can help researchers tackle a range of unsolved problems. Sebastian Ruder, a researcher behind one of the new models, calls it his field’s “ImageNet moment.”

The improvements can be dramatic. The most widely tested [...]  read more

Brazil’s National Museum Fire Proves Cultural Memory Needs a Backup

Fire doesn’t heed history. It doesn’t care about posterity or culture or memory. Fire consumes everything and anything, even if that thing is the last of its kind. On Sunday night, it came for the National Museum of Brazil, burning for six hours and leaving behind ashes where there had been dinosaur fossils, the oldest human remains ever found in the Americas, and audio recordings and documents of indigenous languages. Many of those languages, already extinct, may now be lost forever.

It’s the kind of loss that’s almost impossible to quantify. For the researchers who worked in the museum, the conflagration sent their life’s work up in smoke.

“It is very difficult to react to reality and try to return to life,” linguist Bruna Franchetta, whose office burned down in the fire, told WIRED in an email. “At the moment we do not know the extent of the destruction of the Documentation Center of Indigenous Languages in the National Museum. We have to wait a long time for a survey of what is left in the middle of the rubble. At the moment I can say nothing about what has not turned to ashes, but I hear colleagues saying that it was all lost.”

It didn’t have to be this way. All of these artifacts could have been systematically backed up over the years with photographs, scans, audio files. The failure to do so speaks to a vital truth about the limits of technology: Just because the means to do something exists technologically doesn’t mean it will be done. And [...]  read more