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This Week in Tech

RFID makes way for cameras & AI

This week has a lot of news, in many mixed areas of interest. No space for an into - just jump in and enjoy!

Amazon Go - 'Queue free shopping experience'

I'm not sure how it slipped past, but the last post was meant to include the new Amazon Go - 'Queue free shopping experience' shop that has just opened in Seattle.

Unfortunately there's a queue to get in...

Seriously though...

RFID was always touted as the way that shoppers would be able to pile goods in their shopping cart and then simply walk out the shop and have the sensors automatically read the price of their goods and bill them without having to stand in a queue. That dream has not (yet) materialised - and is vulnerable to people doing things like removing the RFID tag from goods, swapping tags on expensive goods for cheaper ones, etc.

Amazon thinks they have a solution. A shop where you can only enter by having your smartphone scanned, and then being watched by many, many, many cameras that track what you put into your basket so the system bills your credit card when you walk out. Several news outlets have tried shoplifting (and failed - here's Ars Technica's report on their attempt) but some youtubers have claimed success.

There are some obvious cheats - shelves are designed to try to ensure that you can't put items back in the wrong place (to make it easier for the computers to identify them)

Here's Amazon's info page.

Think of the thousands of cashier jobs that will be lost if this technology proves a success (Forbes has).

UK Airport Security takes romance into consideration.

Digital Trends has the scoop - an amusing read.

Contactless (NFC) cards and security in SA

MyBroadband has an article where banks tout the safety of the system. No research, just spokespeople...

The value of Data

MyBroadband has an article on how Vodacom makes R2 BILLION per month on data alone.

Keeping fit... leaks info on military bases

Making data sharing an opt-out feature is always a bad idea. Sure, it lets companies be confident that they will be able to slurp up data from users who don't think about the fact that they are being tracked - or are too lazy (or ignorant) to turn off data sharing for the app. But even 'anonymised' data has its risks. This week it emerged that Strava, a fitness tracking service, has inadvertently spilled the beans on military and other secret installations around the world.

Users of products such as fitbit go out for a run. Their route is tracked. The data is 'cleaned' and anonymised and uploaded. Strava thought it was a great idea to aggregate the data and display it on a global map so that fitness buffs could find popular places to run and exercise. Problem is, some of those routes are run by military personnel inside military bases... Read it at Hackaday and Nine.Com.au (some good graphics and explanations of consequences here).

More Privacy - G.D.P.R. and how tech companies are scrambling to prepare for it

This one is important. Europe has a new set of rules to protect privacy (General Data Protection Regulation) which come into effect on 25 May 2018. If your internet service breaches these rules then your company can be fined up to 4% of your yearly income. As you can imagine, big companies are working hard to make sure that they comply.

Often they take the easy way out - excluding privacy busting features of their products from the European market.

An interesting read.

More Amazon - patent granted for wristband to track workers

Gizmodo has an article on a patent that has just been granted to Amazon. The patent is for a bracelet that workers will wear - and which will allow their hand movements to be tracked. This will allow the system to see if you are slacking off - or making mistakes. As the article points out, this is only a patent (at the moment) and probably serves as a way to treat human workers more like robots until robotics advances enough to replace them.

Cartoonist predicted the problem of intrusive cell phones - more than 100 years ago!


Boing Boing has more info on the cartoon and cartoonist.

Bitcoin miner uses oil to cool his rig

Submerging your computer in oil is an effective (if messy) way to keep it cool (oil does not conduct electricity but is good at dispersing heat). The really interesting thing about the article from Motherboard is some of the statistics it reveals about the cost of mining bitcoin. If you have been carried away by the soaring price of Bitcoin in the last short while, these stats will be of particular interest to you. Summarised, they are:

    • The rig cost $ 120 000.
    • It uses 50 Kw of electricity a month (about the same as 25 households).
    • It mines 1.5 bitcoins a month.

Bitcoin and TAX

If you have made some money from Bitcoin (or know someone who has) then read this. Hope you put aside the tax man's share...

MinION - Palm sized DNA Sequencer

It took a group of scientists 13 years of work and cost $3 Billion to map the human genome. Supercomputers and distributed computing techniques were needed to do the work. Now the MinION, the pocket sized device in the video below connects to your laptop or desktop using USB 3 (and is powered by UB) and can map a genome for as little as $1 000.

AR lets doctors see through your skin

Augmented Reality is so much more useful than Pokemon Go would make you think... Digital Trends has the low down on how researchers are displaying your insides on your outside to help doctors...

How much money (profit) do big companies make - per second?

Check out this interactive graphic to find out. Spoiler alert: Disney only makes $297 per second. Facebook makes $323 per second. Apple makes $1 445 per second!

What's so special about this movie?

The entire, feature length movie was shot on iPhone. No more excuses - you have the same camera tech in your pocket. Now go out and make a movie! More info available here at htxt.africa.

Paying for popularity

The New York Times has a great article on a company called Devumi that sells followers, tweets, retweets, etc for people who need to boost their metrics to prove their popularity. Some of the followers they sell are automated bots based on real people - the product of identity theft.

Devumi has more than 200,000 customers, including reality television stars, professional athletes, comedians, TED speakers, pastors and models. ...

Devumi offers Twitter followers, views on YouTube, plays on SoundCloud, the music-hosting site, and endorsements on LinkedIn, the professional-networking site.

If you are still using Flash, it's time to stop!

Flash is hacked again with another zero day vulnerability out in the wild. The Hacker News has the details.

That's it for this week....

Holiday catchup

So, Monday is back to school - time for a quick catch up on what has happened in the world of tech during the holidays:

Augmented Reality (AR): When virtual data / information / images are projected over a live view of the world around us. It is the great promise behind products such as Google Glass. Other examples include apps which allow you to view a city through the lens of your smartphone camera and add labels / icons to the image to show points of interest. Last week saw the launch of a new AR game that has taken the world by storm: Pokemon Go. In the game you walk around the real world hunting virtual Pokemon monsters that you find superimposed on the view of the world seen through the lens of your smartphone camera. It's an internet sensation and has featured widely in the news. The game is not available in SA (yet) but it's a great way to teach your kids about the concept of augmented reality.

Killing by Robot: The Police shootings in Dallas ended when the attacker was cornered in a parking garage where, after a long standoff during which the attacker made threats about bombs and explosives, the police attached an explosive to a remotely controlled robot, drove the robot up to the attackers location and detonated the explosion. The attacker was killed. This is the first incident of a robot being used this way in a criminal incident (Americans have used robots in this way in war zones before). Both CNN and Readwrite.com have articles discussing the ethics of this action.

Robots in Accidents: Tesla's electric cars have an 'autopilot' mode where the car actually takes care of the driving, though the company requires drivers to remain alert with their hands on the wheels at all times when the autopilot is engaged. There have been several recent reports of accidents taking place whilst a Tesla car was in autopilot mode - one of which resulted in the death of the driver (read it here at Engadget). Google's self driving car also recently had its first accident which was caused by the car (and not the other person involved in the accident).

AI better than the best: This time it's not computer AI beating people at games such as Chess, Go or even the TV quiz program Jeopardy. No. This is computer AI beating the best Top Gun pilots in aerial combat simulations - 100% of the time. Read its at the Dailymail.co.uk, Popular Science and at Engadget (the last paragraph here is pretty impressive).

Unemployed by Robots: It's always easy to generalise and say how robots and IT can cost jobs. This is a concrete example of extreme labour reduction made possible by tech. Hostess (the company that makes American baked sweets such as Twinkies) has gone from a workforce of 9 000 employed in 14 bakeries across America to 1 170 in 3 bakeries. Well over 80% of its staff lost their jobs to automation. Read about it in themoneystreet.com and in the Washington Post (you need to enter your email for access).

More 3D Printed medical marvels: A man lost his jaw to cancer and its treatment. Thanks to 3D printing he can at least look like a normal human again. Article and video at Engadget.com.

Small snippets: KiloCore: A team at University of California has designed a processor with 1000 cores. Read it at ScienceDaily.com. A Nascar race team was hit by Ransomware in April and nearly lost $2 million in files (but paid the ransom). Softpedia.com has the details. Great article on Social Engineering at Geektime.com.

Welcome back to the new term, good luck and happy teaching!

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