This Week in Tech
Welcome to our 50th blog post. We hope that the blog has at least made one useful contribution to your teaching, classroom and / or learners. This week's news tends towards the lighter side and there are a couple of fun things you can show your learners to put smiles on their faces.
The first item on the agenda is MIT engineers proving that you don't need GPS and precise knowledge of location to improve an autonomous drone's ability to avoid obstacles. Instead they allow the drone to keep what they call a 'nano map' in memory which the drone continually refers to. By comparing past images with the current image the drone can position itself relative to obstacles and take the appropriate evasive action.This is much closer to how we humans do things and reduces crash rates from 28% to 2%!
Weird Hardware Hack
Q: What do you get if you combine parts from a flatbed scanner, dot matrix printer and a hard drive, with some mechanical parts and a pencil?
A: The weird 'printer' below that uses a pencil to 'tap' out an image.
Useful? NO. Fascinating? Yes!
Robots continue their advance...
Wired has a story on how Boston Dynamic's Spot robot dog can now open doors (video below). Makes me think of the 'Metalhead' episode from Black Mirror season 4.
Or maybe not so much... The Winter Olympics provided the ideal opportunity for various robotics teams to show just how far robots have to go. The narrative is not English but the visuals are universally understandable.
5G and Wild Boars
More from the Winter Olympics. 5G is a specification that is only due to hit mainstream in 2020. South Korea has been using the technology (capable go 10 Gigabits data transmission speed) in various demonstrations throughout the Olympics. One of the uses is for automated defences against Wild Boars to keep them from invading competition tracks. TechCentral has the details.
Recycling old computers into art
Zayd Menck has built a model of Midtown Manhattan (New York) from old computer parts...
In other news:
And that's it for this week. Enjoy!
Strangely enough, the news this week has been full of stuff about robots. So, we'll run with it and let the blog focus on robotic topics.
UBI (Universal Basic Income)
Let's start off by talking about a concept that features in Science Fiction and has been in the news lately relating to Bill Gates' call for a tax on robots and Elon Musk's statements in support of the concept. A UBI is when the state pays every citizen, no matter what other income they may earn, a set amount each month (Wikipedia's explanation here, Wharton School of Business discussion here, Brookings arguments in favour of). Part of the motivation for calls for a UBI is the increasing loss of jobs due to automation (robots). Some places (Finland, Ontario) are actually trialling the concept.
The topic of a UBI is a great one for class discussion and a topic for 'Social Impact of ICT' that your learners can really get their teeth into. How about a debate? Why not make up a 'parliament' where speakers get to argue for and against a UBI and then the class has to vote? This is a topic that can fire up your learners, get them involved, make them talk after class to friends and family and make your class even more relevant!
How big are robots, economically speaking?
According to an article by Fast Company, researchers put the economic value of all robots in America at $732 Billion - bigger than the economy of Switzerland!
Robotic ear surgeon.
Cochlear implants. Devices that help deaf people to hear. Wired has an article about a robot that can perform the operation to give someone a cochlear implant - by itself.
CNet has an article detailing a journalist trying out a robot porter that followed her around New York for a day. The robot follows you around and can be used for things like carrying your groceries. Great for city life where you don't use a car.
Drone Pilots outnumber real pilots.
OK, so drones are not real robots. The combination of mechanised constructions under remote human control (with the distinct possibility of self control in the future) is enough of a grey area to qualify for inclusion in this blog. Digital Trends has an article detailing how the US air force now employs more drone pilots than pilots for real planes.
Robots and specialised AI chips
The world of the microprocessor is also being affected by the increased demand for more intelligent robots. AI performs better when running on hardware specially developed to support it. Google set the trend by developing the TPU (Tensor Processing Unit) last year and many other companies are working in this hot new area of tech research and development. Mobileye is just such a company, making chips and cameras for self driving cars. Intel just bought them for $15.3 Billion.
UWVs? Seafaring Drones? Whatever you call them, they are real and being tested in Norway.
Engadget has the details.
PRINT THIS OUT AND STICK IT UP IN YOUR CLASSROOM - and email it to everyone you know!!!
Cartoon courtesy of XKCD.
EWN republishes and article from the World Economic Forum studying how to control fake news.
That's it from a full and busy blog for this week.
Tech is always pushing the boundaries. A continual fountain of new ideas, new gadgets and new ways of doing business bubbles up, with entrepreneurs and investors (and consumers) eagerly jumping aboard the latest bandwagon. The 'next big thing' arrives and is proclaimed by its inventors / creators / designers; we all reach, starry eyed and full of hope, for the magic that will miraculously improve our lives and ease our blighted souls.
The problem is: new tech is untried, untested and - even it performs flawlessly and does what it is meant to do in an exemplary fashion - people are wily and conniving and deceitful and will find a way to pervert the purpose of even the best technology.
This brings me to the cause of this negative and cynical rant: Poachers are trying to hack the tracking technology designed to protect and preserve their prey (Full scientific article available at Wiley Online Library). Cyber poaching. A new term to learn and loathe.
“Animal tracking can reveal animal locations (sometimes in nearly real-time), and these data
can help people locate, disturb, capture, harm, or kill tagged animals,”
Another job bites the dust
Used to be that people thought that jobs flipping burgers at fast food joints would be the last refuge for humanity whilst robots took over the world. Flappy, the burger flipping robot might hake something to say about that. Read it at Engadget and check out the video below.
Wikileaks and the CIA
The big news this week, splashed all over the news and just about every publication you care to read, is the Wikileaks publication of CIA hacking tools. The New York Times has an article detailing how to protect yourself if you are worried (summary: update, update, update!), Popular Science retcons it is all over-hyped and Digital Trends has a summary of the leak.
DNA storage, anyone?
The quest for smaller, larger capacity, low power storage is pretty much never ending. This week news emerged of people finally being able to store data on DNA with 100% accuracy (Motherboard, Engadget). A great long term future trend to mention to the class, though it will probably take 10 - 20 years before this becomes a commercial product. Although capacity is huge (you can fit over 2 TB of data on 1 gram of DNA!) it can take forever to do so - the researchers took 7 hours to write 2 MB of data. Then another 7 hours to read the data.
3D Printing in the spotlight
More for your current and future trends session. 3D printing is continually advancing. Almost every week there is an article on how surgeons succeed with particularly difficult operations because they first use a MRI / CAT scan to generate a 3D image of the persons body and then 3D print the part they will work on - so that they can practice the operation before surgery starts.
South Africa is not being left behind in the 3D printing revolution. The CSIR is about to go operational with the worlds largest 3D printer - capable of printing metal parts 200m long, 6m wide and 6m high. Read about the Aeroswift printer here at 3DPrint.com.
The world has its first printed on site house (Digital Trends) - and it only took 24 hours to print the house. Watch the video (a bit of a sales pitch for Apis Corp, the makers of the printer, but still an interesting watch). Another great current and future trends topic for your classes. 3D printing houses - reduced costs for making the house, huge loss of jobs for construction workers. Which is more important?
The robot revolution
From house printing robots to small, furry pollinators. Check out how a Japanese scientist is trying out a concept of using micro drones to do a bees work (because, scarily enough, bee populations are dying out around the world).
Advances in robotics continue apace, and as always, Boston Robotics is at the forefront. This week they unveiled a new machine called Handle - check out the video below to see what it can do.
For more insight into robots, their place in the workplace and people's relationships with robots there is a long but very interesting read at The New York Times. Good material for you to gain insight into robotics in the real world.
That's it for this week. Enjoy!
We all take a lot of time and effort to teach our learners about Phishing - and about the more specialised, targeted "Spear Phishing" version of this type of attack. Well, it's time we added "Whaling" to that repertoire.
The term 'Whale' is often used in IT - and in business in general. A 'Whale' is generally a big spending customer - for example in all those 'free' games that you find available on mobile devices you are able to buy 'coins' or 'stars' or 'points' or something that will make it easier to progress through the game faster. Most people do not spend real money on these in game currencies - but there is a select group of users that do buy them - and they buy large. They are usually called 'Whales' - and they are where these companies make their money. Before science was sufficiently advanced whales were simply regarded as another type of fish - the biggest fish in the sea. So they are the biggest Phish for Phishers to focus their attention on as well. In the world of cybercrime a whale is typically a high level business person (CEO, COO, CFO, CTO = 'C' level executive, someone with 'Chief' in their title), politicians or celebrities.
The Whale phisher typically sends an urgent e-mail from a trusted colleague / business partner requesting urgent payment for some critical aspect of the business. The CEO then gives the order that payment be made, short-circuiting the usual paperwork... The phisher scores big. In May this year an Austrian aircraft company lost nearly € 41 Million (more than R 645 000 000) to a Whaling attack. The CEO and CFO lost their jobs. Read about it here.
MyBroadband.co.za has a story on Whaling and some tips from the FBI about how to avoid such attacks, whilst Social-Engineer.com asks 'Why go after minnows when you can catch a Big Phish?'. Finally CSOonline.com has got some examples of scams that CEOs could fall for (especially the spoofed 'from' addresses that rely on similar looking mis-spellings to seem as if they are from a valid source) - if you can stand their irritating multi-page slideshow format.
Fighting back against RansomWare
A great resource for learning about, identifying and fighting Ransomware is nomoreransom.org. They even have tools that will decrypt certain types of Ransomware attacks. A great resource for teaching about this type of malware.
Watch out for that cheap wireless keyboard
You better watch out, you better beware, Keysniffer is already in town.
Armed with a bit of smarts and a wireless dongle that costs less than R200 a hacker can not only intercept whatever you type on your keyboard (without even having to install key logging malware on your computer) from up to 70 m away, but they can also insert their own keystrokes to change whatever you are typing.
How is this possible? Well, makers of cheap wireless keyboards (those that use their own wi-fi dongle instead of Bluetooth) let the communication between the keyboard and the computer take place without encryption (or with poor encryption). Why? Because its cheaper and cheaper = lower price or more profits or both. Wired magazine has the lowdown on this new hacking exploit.
There is no such thing as anonymity or privacy on the web
Keep on telling your learners this fact. Repeat it until they think you are a stuck record. For those that say that they are savvy and have the skillz and the toolz to keep private - point out to them that the TOR browser and account they are using is probably compromised. Researchers recently found over 100 TOR nodes that were spying on their users... Tell them to read the article at The Hacker News. Then point out that the web is a large, wild, ungoverned place which is about as tough and secure as a bag made of wet toilet paper. They need to always assume that most of what you do, create, store, collect, download electronically is traceable and watchable and has probably been intercepted by someone somewhere.
A general Resource for all
The World Digital Library is a resource created by the US Library of Congress with support from UNESCO. It contains many digitised images, texts and maps that are interesting to browse through but could also be valuable resources for the History / Geography teachers at your school.
Building at 225 bricks per hour
3DPrint.com has an article about an Australian company which has created a robot that can lay 225 bricks in an hour - as much as a human does in half a day. Basically a truck loaded with bricks arrives at the building site, extends a robotic arm and starts laying the bricks according to the design programmed into it from a CAD model. There's a time lapse video of the robot at work near the end of the article.
That's it for this week.
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