UK Group Threatens to Sue Facebook Over Cambridge Analytica

Lawyers for a group of UK residents whose Facebook data was harvested by Cambridge Analytica are now threatening to sue for damages. In a 27-page letter served to the company Tuesday, they accuse Facebook of violating British data privacy regulations. The letter before claim, as it’s called, is the first step in the UK’s legal process for filing a class action suit. It warns Facebook that if it does not adequately respond to a list of questions regarding user privacy within 14 days, the claimants may take legal action against the company in the United States, the United Kingdom, and Ireland. Nearly 1.1 million British citizens could be eligible to join such a suit if it goes forward.

The warning comes from the UK-based law firm Irvine Thanvi Natas Solicitors, which is representing dozens of people who argue that Facebook misused their personal data in violation of UK law. It follows an announcement Monday by separate group, called the read more

‘Octopath Traveler’ Collapses Under the Weight of Its Influences

I begin Octopath Traveler in snow. Soft-blurred whites cover the screen, surrounding the cobbled stone and churches of a sleepy winter village with a massive cathedral at its center. I am occupying the role of Ophilia, a priestess, the adoptive daughter of the church elder. It’s time to go on a dangerous pilgrimage, but the elder is on his deathbed, so I usurp the role of my sister, who was originally to go on the pilgrimage, and begin the rites so that my sister can stay here, with her father, until his end.

I begin anew in a citystate to the north, as a scholar with a penchant for detective work. Things are peaceful here, the restful sort of springtime. Except I’ve been framed, now, and a source of great knowledge is missing. So I embark on a quest to track down the missing tome and set right what has once been wronged.

I begin again in—Wait, haven’t we done this before? How many times is this game going to start?*

Octopath Traveler, a new read more

This Robot Hand Taught Itself How to Grab Stuff Like a Human

Elon Musk is kinda worried about AI. (“AI is a fundamental existential risk for human civilization and I don’t think people fully appreciate that,” as he put it in 2017.) So he helped found a research nonprofit, OpenAI, to help cut a path to “safe” artificial general intelligence, as opposed to machines that pop our civilization like a pimple. Yes, Musk’s very public fears may distract from other more real problems in AI. But OpenAI just took a big step toward robots that better integrate into our world by not, well, breaking everything they pick up.

OpenAI researchers have built a system in which a simulated robotic hand learns to manipulate a block through trial and error, then seamlessly transfers that knowledge to a robotic hand in the real world. Incredibly, the system ends up “inventing” characteristic grasps that humans already commonly use to handle objects. Not in a quest to pop us like pimples—to be clear.

Video by OpenAI

The researchers’ trick is a technique read more

Why Westerners Fear Robots and the Japanese Do Not

As a Japanese, I grew up watching anime like “Neon Genesis Evangelion,” which depicts a future in which machines and humans merge into cyborg ecstasy. Such programs caused many of us kids to become giddy with dreams of becoming bionic superheroes. Robots have always been part of the Japanese psyche—our hero, Astro Boy, was officially entered into the legal registry as a resident of the city of Niiza, just north of Tokyo, which, as any non-Japanese can tell you, is no easy feat. Not only do we Japanese have no fear of our new robot overlords, we’re kind of looking forward to them.

It’s not that Westerners haven’t had their fair share of friendly robots like R2-D2 and Rosie, the Jetsons’ robot maid. But compared to the Japanese, the Western world is warier of robots. I think the difference has something to do with our different religious contexts, as well as historical differences with respect to industrial-scale slavery.

The Western concept of “humanity” is limited, and I think it’s time to seriously question whether we have the right to exploit the environment, animals, tools, or robots simply because we’re human and they are not.

Sometime in the late Eighties, I participated in a meeting organized by the Honda Foundation in which a Japanese professor—I can’t remember his name—made the case that the Japanese had more success integrating robots into society because of their country’s indigenous Shinto religion, which remains the official national religion of Japan.

Shinto, unlike Judeo-Christian monotheists and the Greeks before them, do not believe that humans are particularly “special.” Instead, there are spirits in everything, rather like “The Force” in Star Wars. Nature doesn’t belong to us, we belong to Nature, and spirits live in everything, including rocks, tools, homes, and even empty spaces.

The West, the professor contended, has a problem with the idea of things read more

Flying Cars, the Real E-Scooter Riders, and More in the Future of Cars

Even the wonderful stuff has its unforeseen consequences, its dark consequences. Today’s workout leads to tomorrow’s soreness. Someone’s wedded bliss is someone else’s broken heart. Even a delectable In-n-Out double-double generates gastrointestinal discomfort.

The same is true, of course, for transportation systems. Wait—the comparison holds, I promise! A flying car sounds like a cool way to get to work, right? But someone needs to hire the flying traffic cops. That baby Airstream trailer is so adorable and compact and groovy. And comes with a hefty $40,000 price tag.

This week, we brought you stories of transpo downsides. And upsides! Plus, tales of rainbow-inspired self-driving car sensors, and a new approach to safely testing AVs in the wild. It’s been a week. Let’s get you caught up.

Headlines

Stories you might have missed from WIRED this week

  • You’ve heard the complaints: E-scooters are just toys for phone-plinking, Patagonia-toting overpaid tech bros, not a viable transportation option. Or, perhaps not, according to a survey studying public perception toward scooters. The research suggests that women and those making between $25,000 and $50,000 a year are among the new options’ biggest fans.
  • Uber’s self-driving cars returned to Arizona’s public streets this week, their first outing since March, when a vehicle struck and killed a woman. Right now, the cars are only in “manual” mode, meaning there are people actually driving the cars as they collect sensor data. But the company says it has rethought its public autonomous vehicle testing—and the role of the humans hired to keep it safe.
  • An unusually buoyant collection of legislators gathered in a Washington, DC, hearing room this week to hear testimony from Uber, Bell, and Terrafugia about the state of the “flying car” business. But as WIRED contributor Eric Niiler points out, all the excitement in the world won’t help the budding industry contend with the important safety questions around the tech—and the Federal Aviation Administration.
  • For almost a decade, the telltale sign of an autonomous car has been the weird, spinning sensors mounted on the vehicle’s roof. These mechanical protuberance house the lidar technology that helps the car “see” with lasers that gather information to create a “picture” of the world that the cars can understand. But spinning is so passé. Transportation editor Alex Davies writes about a new kind of lidar from the Australian startup Baraja, which uses a prism technology to collect data on street signs, and guide vehicles on their way.
  • Increasing the energy efficiency of products and homes? Excellent idea! Increasing the expensive power plant operating costs? Less so. WIRED contributor Nick Stockton shows how these trends are on a collision course, and how the folks in charge of this country’s utility systems are thinking about how to fix a complicated energy grid.
  • All adventures cannot be big. For the mini-quests, consider Airstream’s new 16-foot Basecamp, a $40,000 trailer large enough to play host to your night’s sleep, but small enough to slide into a New York City parking spot.

Panda Skytrain of the Week

The city of Chengdu, in China’s Sichuan province, debuted its $320 million, 7-mile, autonomous, panda-themed skytrain this week. Pandas are known for lazy chomping, but this speedy guy can hit 50 miles per hour. The Verge is right: The only way to make American great again is to build more animal-themed public transit.

Required Reading

News from elsewhere on the internet

In the Rearview

Essential stories from WIRED’s read more

Michael Cohen’s Secret Tapes Top This Week’s Internet News

If it’s summer, California must be on fire. And if that’s not enough dystopia for you, there’s always the fact that DNA-testing service 23AndMe is selling clients’ information to drug manufacturers, or the emergence of mutated HIV strains that cause illness quicker than others, not to mention the president apparently threatening war with Iran for no immediately discernible reason. Yes, the world keeps on turning towards the very worst incarnation of itself, it seems, but it’s not all bad; at least there’s a new Mission: Impossible out this weekend. And until you can get yourself to a fine purveyor of popcorn-fueled escapism, please do enjoy this primer on what the internet has been discussing over the past seven days or so.

Michael Cohen’s Basement Tapes

What Happened: Cohen, a man who had previously announced that he would take a bullet for Donald Trump, has apparently reconsidered his position.

What Really Happened: Remember when people were wondering if Trump’s read more

How Cloudflare Uses Lava Lamps to Guard Against Hackers

Edward Craven Walker lived to see his greatest invention, the lava lamp, make its late-’90s cultural comeback. But the British tinkerer (and famed nudist, incidentally) died before he could witness the 21st-­century digital potential of his analog creation. Inside the San Francisco office of the web security company Cloudflare, 100 units of Craven Walker’s groovy hardware help protect wide swaths of the internet from infiltration.

Here’s how it works. Every time you log in to any website, you’re assigned a unique identification number. It should be random, because if hackers can predict the number, they’ll impersonate you. Computers, relying as they do on human-coded patterns, can’t generate true randomness—but nobody can predict the goopy mesmeric swirlings of oil, water, and wax. Cloudflare films the lamps 24/7 and uses the ever-changing arrangement of pixels to help create a superpowered cryptographic key. “Anything that the camera captures gets incorporated into the randomness,” says Nick Sullivan, the company’s head of cryptography, and that includes visitors milling about and light streaming through the windows. (Any change in heat subtly affects the undulations of those glistening globules.)

Sure, theoretically, bad guys could sneak their own camera into Cloudflare’s lobby to capture the same scene, but the company’s prepared for such trickery. It films the movements read more

The Rise of the Computer-Generated Celebrity

A new generation of celebrities is selling out concerts, starring in commercials, and amassing huge Instagram followings. But none of them exist—corporeally, anyway. In recent years, and starting in Japan, technology and social media have spawned a digital demimonde of computer-generated stars, ranging from fake musicians and models to company mascots who appear as holograms (like Betty Crocker, with AI). When they’re not entertaining you, they’re trying to convince you of their humanity, and even the more cartoonish among them have fleshed-out personalities. In a way, it’s the purest expression of celebrity, which has always been an elaborate illusion. CGI starlets, though, “are much easier to control,” says Ryan Detert, CEO of the branding firm Influential. Except when they misbehave.

The (Im)material Girl

She’s not really fooling anyone—Hatsune Miku is a schoolgirlish, turquoise-­haired anime read more

How to Pick the Perfect Phone Case

Few people have greater insight into the follies and foibles of humans than smartphone repair technicians. Sure, Shakespeare is the master when it comes to cutting observations on human nature, but the people who repair our phones see us at our most vulnerable—mangled hardware in palms, usually with some embarrassing and revelatory mistake to confess.

The world is filled with potential tech treachery, so it’s best to act preemptively and wrap your phone in a protective case.

Laxmi Agrawal of Cupertino iPhone Repair and Sam Shoman of SF Smart Wireless have seen it all. A client who dropped his phone in the snow and found it two months later in a puddle of snowmelt. A client whose phone was run over by a truck and brought it in with tire chain marks crushed onto the screen.

Their experience shows that even if you’ve vowed to be careful, the world is filled with potential tech treachery, so it’s best to act preemptively and wrap your phone in a protective case. We read more

When in Nature, Google Lens Does What the Human Brain Can’t

AI-powered visual search tools, like Google Lens and Bing Visual Search, promise a new way to search the world—but most people still type into a search box rather than point their camera at something. We’ve gotten used to manually searching for things over the past 25 years or so that search engines have been at our fingertips. Also, not all objects are directly in front of us at the time we’re searching for information about them.

One area where I’ve found visual search useful is outside, in the natural world. I go for hikes frequently, a form of retreat from the constant digital interactions that fool me into thinking I’m living my “best life” online. Lately, I’ve gotten into the habit of using Google Lens to identify the things I’m seeing along the way. I point my phone’s camera—in this case, an Android phone with Lens built into the Google Assistant app—at a tree or flower I don’t recognize. The app suggests what the object might be, like a modern-day read more