Category: internet of things

A New $15 Billion Project Is Set to Utterly Transform Our World

Going All In: A $15 Billion Project

To advance research and development on artificial intelligence, quantum computing, and the Internet of Things, Alibaba is dedicating $15 billion in funding over the next three years to create the next generation of such technology.

As reported by Bloomberg, the company shared its plans in an emailed statement, shortly after Chief Technical Officer Jeff Zhang made the announcement at the company’s Computing Conference 2017 in Hangzhou, China. This is the beginning of its global research program, now known as Alibaba DAMO Academy — “DAMO” an acronym for Discovery, Adventure, Momentum and Outlook.

As part of the program, Alibaba intends to build seven new R&D labs across the U.S., Russia, China, Israel, and Singapore. Over 100 scientists worldwide who specialize in different aspects of AI, quantum computing, and the IoT will also be hired.

In an interview with Bloomberg, Alibaba Chief Technical Officer Jeff Zhang said the new labs will go a long way to “help solve issues that Alibaba is currently facing across its business lines. It will also be at the forefront of developing next-generation technology.”

More Than Labs and Scientists

Alongside new labs, Alibaba’s multi-billion dollar investment will also go towards funding various collaborations with universities, with the University of California at Berkeley already on board. Additionally, the company has tapped a number of professors from the likes of Princeton and Harvard to sit on an advisory board.

Privacy and the Internet of Things
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Alibaba’s increased focus on AI and quantum computing is a significant one, with both expected to dramatically change the world. The company already has a “smart warehouse” run by 60 robots, which saw an productivity increase 300 percent. That percentage can only rise if the company’s program is a success, though it does raise some concerns about automation and its impact on jobs.

Fortunately, according to CNBC, the company has a “commitment to serve 2 billion customers and create 100 million jobs in 20 years.” We’ll have to wait and see what Alibaba comes up with in the coming years, but it’s a clear sign it’s prepared to see this through, and has the resources necessary to move the world forward.

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Is Amazon Moving Forward with Plans to Sell Medicine Online?

Selling Medicine Online

E-retail giant Amazon has reportedly been considering a move to sell prescription drugs online for quite some time. Back in July, Jeff Bezos’ billion-dollar company was said to have set up a secret lab called “1492” — a reference to the old rhyme about Christopher Columbus — as Amazon supposedly wants to usher in a new age in healthcare with the introduction of selling medicine online. The stealthy lab is developing plans to set up a new healthcare system by making medical data services available for the Amazon Echo.

With this move, it seems that the company is serious about entering the pharmacy business to sell medicine online. According to an email from Amazon, which CNBC viewed together with an anonymous, well-informed source, the company is working out the details of its strategy to enter the multibillion-dollar prescription drug industry — a $560-billion-per-year market, to be exact.

To do this, Amazon needs a dedicated team, which sources close to the company said it has already started to create. Amazon has been looking for people to be part of a project simply called “healthcare,” and among its first hires was Mark Lyons, an executive from the nonprofit health insurance company Premera Blue Cross. Reportedly, Lyons created an internal pharmacy benefit manager for Amazon’s employees, the success of which could determine how they plan to proceed with this pharmacy business. Eric French, the VP for Amazon Consumables, has also consulted with a number of people about this possible move.

Disrupting Healthcare

Amazon is a leading force in the impending era of artificial intelligence (AI) in business, alongside Google, which is dominating. Amazon’s presence in the Internet of Things (IoT), thanks to the Echo and Alexa, is obvious. The company’s cloud platform, Amazon Web Services, has also become a go-to for companies in the health and medicine industry. If the company does end up selling prescription drugs online, it could disrupt the entire healthcare industry.

A 30-page report from Goldman Sachs’ investment research arm showed just what this disruption could mean. Amazon won’t immediately replace pharmacies. Instead, they would start by serving as an intermediary between health insurers, consumers, and the rest of the healthcare industry by working with a pharmacy benefits manager (PBM) — essentially Lyons’ role — which would provide “access to patient data and the potential to cross-sell related products,” the report stated, according to CNBC.

Banking on their IoT devices, Amazon could also improve the so-called digital health industry. “Imagine seeing a virtual doctor on your Amazon app, having it prescribe you a certain medication, and then tapping a ‘buy now’ button — all without leaving your home.” In short, Amazon would serve as the new “middleman” in healthcare, potentially improving drug price transparency for consumers by reducing out-of-pocket drug costs.

Still, the Goldman Sachs report notes some challenges worth considering. The general profile of Amazon’s users is younger and healthier, which isn’t typically the market for prescription and maintenance drugs that their services could cater to. Amazon has time to consider how it would decide to move forward, of course, but it’s obvious that technology, like AI and the IoT, is driving us to a future of personalized healthcare.

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Mattel Cancels AI-Powered Smart Speaker for Kids Over Privacy Concerns

Aristotle Axed

In January 2017, Mattel announced Aristotle, a smart speaker created for use by children. Last week, the company confirmed that the device had been scrapped, amid concerns about children’s privacy.

Aristotle was designed to use natural language processing technology to get a better grasp on how children pronounced words over time. This isn’t too far removed from the way virtual assistant services learn about users’ habits, but when young people are involved, the issue obviously becomes a lot thornier.

Lead by a team of child development, education, and privacy experts, more than 15,000 people signed a petition to stop Mattel from selling Aristotle, and last week, Sen. Edward J. Markey and Rep. Joe Barton sent Mattel a letter requesting details on how the company planned to store data collected by Aristotle and how long they would retain that data.

The toymaker had previously committed to encrypting the data and pledged to not sell it to advertisers in order to protect children’s privacy. However, following the letter, Mattel released a statement declaring that their new chief technology officer, Sven Gerjets, had shuttered the project as part of a broad evaluation of all the company’s upcoming products.

Under Surveillance

The ever-increasing amount of internet-connected hardware in our homes is something of a double-edged sword.

Privacy and the Internet of Things
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For every instance where an Internet of Things (IoT) device has reported a crime or otherwise done some good, we can find another example of a piece of technology that comes dangerously close to infringing upon our privacy.

As we become even more connected as a society, we must take all the necessary steps to ensure that the advantages of smart home and IoT devices don’t come at the cost of our cybersecurity and general privacy.

Mattel claims that they had already made the decision to cancel Aristotle before receiving the letter from Sen. Markey and Rep. Barton, but elected officials certainly have cause to be proactive in monitoring products like this.

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The Makers of Roomba Want to Share Maps of Users’ Homes With Smart Tech Companies

Eye Robot

A few years ago, iRobot’s Roomba was billed as a revolution in home cleaning, a piece of tech that could clean your floors so you didn’t have to. However, Reuters is now reporting that the device has been doing more than just freeing up your time — it’s been mapping the layout of your home.

Privacy and the Internet of Things
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The internet of things (IoT) has been growing quickly, and the next big frontier in smart tech is our homes. However, tech companies currently lack the data necessary to adequately conquer this arena.

Roomba could change that.

“There’s an entire ecosystem of things and services that the smart home can deliver once you have a rich map of the home that the user has allowed to be shared,” iRobot CEO Colin Angle told Reuters.

Privacy Problems

The development with iRobot is just one of a plethora of examples of our devices collecting data on us, either to optimize their own performance or so the information can be sold to others. This trend has both positive and negative implications.

Looking at the positive end of the spectrum, the data collected by Roomba could provide the stepping stone necessary to truly bring the smart-tech universe into our homes.

Guy Hoffman, a robotics professor at Cornell University, compares current smart home devices to New York tourists who stick to the subway: “There is some information about the city, but the tourist is missing a lot of context for what’s happening outside of the stations.”

With the maps Roomba could provide, these devices would have a much better understanding of the home. This would allow them to do things like manipulate acoustics depending on where you are in the house or change smart lighting depending on where daylight is shining in.

Then there’s the other side of the spectrum. The data being collected by Roomba is extremely sensitive, and a detailed map of your home could be used for nefarious means.

While iRobot says that “customers have control over sharing” their data, agreeing to the iRobot terms of service and privacy policy gives the company the legal right to share the information gleaned from the Roomba’s travels. After that, there are no restrictions in place concerning what the data could be used for if it is purchased by another company.

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A Smart Home Device Successfully Reported an In-Progress Crime

Smart Call

Calling for help at the right moment during an emergency can spell the difference between a life lost or a life saved. Thankfully, for a mother and daughter in a New Mexico residence, it was the latter. Except they didn’t make the call — their smart home device did.

Authorities from the Bernalillo County Sheriff Department were alerted to an alleged in-progress assault after a 911 call was made by a smart home device. The operator heard a confrontation in the background — presumably from a violent domestic dispute involving Eduardo Barros and his girlfriend. Barros, who was house-sitting that day, allegedly pulled a gun on his girlfriend and then asked: “Did you call the sheriffs?” The smart device heard it as a voice command to “call the sheriffs” and then made the call, Deputy Felicia Romero told ABC News.

A SWAT team arrived at the scene and successfully apprehended Barros after hours of negotiation. The girlfriend was injured, according to the police, but the daughter was unharmed.

Always Listening

In a statement sent to ABC News, Bernalillo County Sheriff Manuel Gonzales III expressed his appreciation for the technology. “The unexpected use of this new technology to contact emergency services has possibly helped save a life. This amazing technology definitely helped save a mother and her child from a very violent situation,” he said.

Indeed, this isn’t the first case that shows how the Internet of Things (IoT) can be helpful in matters of the law. Back in 2016, Amazon handed over data to authorities from one of its Echo devices, which served as a key piece of evidence in a 2015 murder investigation. Although Amazon obliged eventually, they did protest initially, saying their artificial intelligence (AI) virtual assistant Alexa has First Amendment rights.

While the question of giving AI rights is still one to be settled, it’s clear that these smart devices are always listening. For both the incident in New Mexico and the 2015 murder investigation, this all-hearing presence proved to be a good thing. However, there may be instances when smart devices are overhearing too much. The task at hand across the industry where AI is concerned will be to find a good balance between device security and privacy.

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By 2020, There Will Be 4 Devices for Every Human on Earth

Internet Of Things

According to research from Business Insider, more than 24 billion internet-connected devices will be installed around the world by 2020. To give that some context, that’s more than four devices for every person on the planet. Together, these devices comprise the Internet of Things (IoT), and its presence is permanently changing our world. 

Privacy and the Internet of Things
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IoT is the connection between the physical world of humans and the digital world of data (and, to some extent, human ideas). Computers, smartphones, smartwatches, tablets, modern TVs, and wearables are all part of the IoTs — that part is intuitive. However, even everyday appliances like thermostats and smoke detectors are now beginning to boast smart capabilities, which establishes them as part of the IoT. Our entire transportation system, the way we work, and even how we socialize will all change because of the IoT.

What’s Growing The IoT?

Although there are many things that together are driving the growth of the IoT, there are a few basic trends that are easy to identify. Internet connectivity is expanding and will soon be almost everywhere. For example, in 2018 New York is set become the first state to bring broadband access to every household, even in rural areas. Another factor is that mobile technology is improving quickly, and the use of remote and mobile devices is rapidly becoming more widespread. This means prices are falling, and access is growing. Nokia, for example, is bringing 5G technology to India.

Along these lines, more money is being invested into the IoT as companies and governments alike recognize its importance. The U.S. government invested $8.8 billion in IoT solutions in 2015, up $1.1 from the previous year. At the same time, the price of internet-connected sensors, which most IoT devices rely on, is falling. This means the price of IoT devices are dropping, and more people can afford more devices.

As the IoT grows, security challenges will arise, and possible privacy concerns that could affect our individual rights. However, overall the growth of the IoT will mean more access to opportunity for more people. The best way to respond to it is to plan ahead for these kinds of problems and be ready to tackle them.

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A New “Mega-Sensor” Could Make Your Entire Home Smart

General-Purpose Sensing

We want to get the most out of our appliances and, while internet connectivity can be quite useful, there are many limitations to the abilities of the current Internet of Things (IoT) model. Smart devices cost much more than their offline counterparts and they often do not talk to each other. Even more, some devices may incorporate cameras as a part of their scanning technologies, which many consumers find intrusive.

A graduate student, Gierad Laput, studying computer-human interaction at Carnegie Mellon University is looking to reconcile those limitations with a single, relatively low-cost, device that has the potential of turning entire rooms into “smart-rooms.”

Laput’s project is called Synthetic Sensors. The sensors can be powered directly from a wall socket and are about the size of an old Gameboy cartridge. It combines the sensing capabilities of an inventory of sensors into a central board giving it the ability to monitor an entire room.

Increased Interconnectivity

While the device itself may not allow for the kind of capability that specialized IoT technology can provide, but it does offer a level of integration that further development, even from third parties, may allow. For example, the suite of sensors can monitor when a paper towel has been taken, but on its own, it cannot monitor when the roll may need to be changed. However, when coupled with what Laput calls “second order” sensors, the devices can capture counts and send notifications of the need to replenish.

This capability can be scaled to an unlimited degree (theoretically) giving consumers highly specific and applicable feedback.

Now, while we may not yet be in the era of sentient smart houses from our science-fiction dreams, we are slowly making our way into a future where every aspect of our day contains encounters with smart devices. The popularity of devices like Amazon’s Echo and Google Home are helping technology like this to grow quickly, despite their limitations.

Perhaps this technology can be a part of the integration that Laput is hoping to achieve.

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The Internet Is Transforming Our Physical World

There Is Nothing New About Platforms

An emergence of digital platform economy is driving fundamental changes in our societies. But there is nothing new about platforms. Platform refers to a product, technology, or organization that enable direct interactions between two (or more) distinct actors. For example, most General Motors cars were already years ago built on a shared product platform. So, no matter if you bought an Opel or a Cadillac, the underlying structure of the car was actually similar. It makes sense, of course, to standardize production like this for economies of scale.

Platforms are a way to save costs, as they were for GM, but they also create flexibility and competitive advantage. Flexibility comes from the ability to customize the offering on top of the platform, as GM did for different cars in different price ranges. Microsoft Windows 95 might be the best example of competitive advantage created via platform.

A typical approach to monopolies is that they hinder innovation and development. However, this isn’t always the case. A dominant software platform such as Windows 95 allowed a sort of an ad hoc standardization that allowed smaller companies to create software that previously demanded immense resources. The dominant platform also made it possible for developers to create software only for this one platform, significantly reducing development costs. Clearly the platform position of Microsoft Windows 95 made the development of information technology faster. These assets also provided Microsoft with a long-lasting competitive advantage in the market.

Another great example of platform utilization is Apple App Store. Apple earns much more from its App Store than Google does from Google Play, even though Google has many times more downloads. Apple also gave developers much higher returns.

But Digitalization Brings Them Into Our Everyday Life

Internet of things (IoT), the next step in digitalization, is colliding digital and physical worlds. IoT will become part for our everyday life especially through platforms. There is a natural link between digitalization and platforms.

Uber, Lyft, AirBnB, and others have demonstrated that improving sensors and digital tools in physical environment makes it possible to scale up products and services almost like they are digital. These companies have emerged really fast, but are already as big as or bigger than the old players in their markets. They are often related to eating, living, and transportation, where the big money is and where people also really realize that things change. This is why there is so much talk about platforms and platform economy right now.

To be more precise about why platforms have a natural link to digitalisation, the following must be emphasized: standardization helps also in production of physical goods such as the GM cars where the old chassis of the vehicle could be, if desired, used in a new car. But when data, algorithms and apps are reused, it does not require deconstruction of the original goods. The optimal use of information, including data, databases, information, metadata, algorithms, codecs, learning algorithms, apps, programs, and scripts is much more efficient when the platform is digital, even though the product or service is physical.

Why IoT leads to the platform economy? [NT Kelsey]

So, when digitalization moves onward, service providers see it first in contexts that are easy to digitalize with the highest profits. Obviously, these contexts are houses and cars. Nevertheless, because recycling information is free, it makes sense to digitalize in smaller and smaller contexts. The more there are digital networks, the more it is economically reasonable to digitalize things. This means next we can see digitalization of clothes, household items, tools, and so on until everything is digitalized.

Digitalizing of all the things happens through combinatorial innovations, which means combining or recombining different component parts to create new inventions. This needs huge number of data points and thus they will become relevant for digitalization only after a long time. After that, there might be immense benefits from combinations. For example, combining mobility data with eating data would enable very detailed health profiling.

When everything becomes digitalized, the role of platforms and platform standards becomes more and more significant. Within platforms we are able to control interfaces, APIs (application programming interface, which enable communication between different programs), programs, information, and sensors of digital services. This is due to the fact that there are no other mechanisms that allow for 1) cost savings, 2) protection of business models, 3) third party innovations, or 4) aggressive scaling.

Then, platforms remove friction between people, creating more efficient markets, especially by decreasing the transaction costs. For example, Uber has decreased the transaction costs of finding someone willing to offer a low-cost ride below the opportunity cost of standing on a street corner trying to hail a cab. They also reduce investment costs, as in the case of Apple promising “no advertising fees” for companies that want to advertise in the App Store.

But these platforms also reduce the freedom of choice both from the buyer and the seller. The seller gets an advantage by not having to configurate offerings from the start. On the other hand s/he can only build the offering inside the service standardization of the platform. For example, Uber drivers can give you free snacks, but cannot drive you to random locations for fun. Apple’s App Store is known to be really strict on what is allowed and what is not. For example, application developers find it problematic that the App Store gives some apps and publishers, such as Apple, an advantage in the marketplace.

As digitalization becomes a more and more integral part of the physical world, the role of platforms becomes more important. As an increasing number of our interactions happen in digital platforms, it is important to develop the ways people can influence platforms and their rules. That’s why platform governance is one of the biggest societal questions of our era.

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Flexible Thermoelectric Fabric Lets You Power Devices Using Your Body Heat

Heating Up

While researchers tinker away at making us part cyborg — or otherwise enhanced humans — scientists at Purdue University are working to make sure that we efficiently recycle human energy. With a specially designed fabric that can be woven to harness body heat and provide energy to power Internet of things (IoT) devices, the technology could mark a the dawning of a new age in medicine.

Using the flexible thermoelectric generator technology they designed, Kazuaki Yazawa of Purdue’s Discovery Park’s Birck Nanotechnology Center was able to weave semiconductor strings into a fabric. The technology is so precise that it can take heat from any complex surface and converts it into electricity.

Although it’s only a small amount of usable energy, it’s an improvement on existing thermoelectric generators: unlike technology before it, Yazawa’s unique semiconductor strings are far more flexible and easier to manage.

Cooling Down

Yazawa developed a weaving technique that allows the technology to be wrapped to fit any shape to collect excess heat. With that in mind, the revolutionary thermoelectric generator can harness the maximum amount of heat from the human body — or any other source. A capability that eliminates the need for batteries.

Yazawa’s ultimate goal for application is using the technology to power IoT devices, especially in hospitals and sports, two environments where devices are often constantly affixed (and attuned) to people. In hospitals, the new technology could power health devices that monitor a patient after a trauma for vital signs like heart rate and blood pressure. In sports, coaches could monitor an athlete’s performance in real time. The technology can also be used to “cool down” users, since the device uses body heat it therefore converts, it could be used to lower body temperature which could be particularly useful for athletes or members of the military.

It’s also impressive in its sustainability: since the technology completely recycles excess human heat and turns it into a power source for devices, nothing goes to waste.

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The Era of Ownership Is Ending

In the 20th century we got used to a certain way of thinking: if you needed something, you bought it. Cars, houses, records, you named it. Efficient manufacturing and logistics made it possible to create an unprecedented global overflow of stuff. Ownership quickly became about being someone; it was a way of defining who you are.

All of this is still very much the case today: buying and owning things is a huge part of our lives. Yet something is still markedly different now: most of us have stopped buying CDs and DVDs. Young people aren’t buying cars anymore. Books are selling fewer copies. Many things we used to buy and keep at home we no longer do.

Let us take a closer look at what is happening with music, for instance. Artists still release albums, but very few people actually buy the physical album. Instead, they might buy the songs digitally on iTunes, and a growing amount of people will listen to the track on-demand. Music is accessed, not owned. The same goes for your favourite film. Ten years ago you would have bought a DVD to watch over and over again. Now you have it on stand-by on Netflix.

And this is just the beginning.

Things get really interesting when we start talking about cars instead of music. What would it be like to access a car on-demand? You might say that we already have taxis. But a taxi isn’t as convenient as Netflix is. What would it be like to actually have the convenience of your own car without owning it?

Mobility-as-a-Service (MaaS) is a model for traffic without ownership. You pay a monthly fee for it, like with Spotify, tell the app where you are going and get instant access to taxis, Ubers, buses, and so on. Everything is available on-demand and ownership is no longer needed.

The Era of Ownership Is Ending

MaaS is part of a trend called the “as a service” model. The framework began as a simple idea in software development, when companies started paying for access instead of buying permanent licenses for office programs. Now the same model is moving into the material world. Netflix, Spotify, AirBnb and Uber are all “as a service” companies.

“As a service” models become more and more feasible when the number of sensors that surround us increases. This development is often called the “Internet of Things.” But when we consider the Internet of Things from the perspective of disappearing products and the increase in new service models, we can effectively conclude that it is, in fact, the “Internet of No Things.”

What is so revolutionary about the “as a service” model then? Why is it good not to own things? There are two main reasons and these are related: First, ownership makes us lazy. Second, the planet cannot survive with us consuming so much stuff.

When we buy things we easily get bored with them and forget they exist, or, alternatively, use them only because we own them. On-demand is about using things when we actually need them. It leads to the more effective use of resources. AirBnb gets more people to use the same apartment and Uber gets more people to use the same car.

It takes a large amount of natural resources to manufacture a car, house, or smartphone in the first place. We are now running out of those resources. That’s why digital “as a service” platforms show great promise. In the future the “as a service” model will revolutionise some areas of our lives that are completely unsustainable right now such as housing, mobility and communications.

Can you imagine a world where you no longer have a phone in your pocket but instead pay for communication as a service? It might sound like sci-fi, but companies around the world are already offering housing and even “Smart City as a Service.” A world without smartphones? It may very well happen.

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Why Cybersecurity Needs to Be Considered as an Absolute Human Right

Having access to the internet is increasingly considered to be an emerging human right. International organizations and national governments have begun to formally recognize its importance to freedom of speech, expression, and information exchange. The next step to help ensure some measure of cyber peace online may be for cybersecurity to be recognized as a human right, too.

The United Nations has taken note of the crucial role of internet connectivity in “the struggle for human rights.” United Nations officials have decried the actions of governments cutting off internet access as denying their citizens’ rights to free expression.


But access is not enough. Those of us who have regular internet access often suffer from cyber-fatigue: We’re all simultaneously expecting our data to be hacked at any moment and feeling powerless to prevent it. Late last year, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, an online rights advocacy group, called for technology companies to “unite in defense of users,” securing their systems against intrusion by hackers as well as government surveillance.

It’s time to rethink how we understand the cybersecurity of digital communications. One of the U.N.’s leading champions of free expression, international law expert David Kaye, in 2015 called for “the encryption of private communications to be made a standard.” These and other developments in the international and business communities are signaling what could be early phases of declaring cybersecurity to be a human right that governments, companies, and individuals should work to protect.

Is Internet Access a Right?

The idea of internet access as a human right is not without controversy. No less an authority than Vinton Cerf, a “father of the internet,” has argued that technology itself is not a right, but a means through which rights can be exercised.

All the same, more and more nations have declared their citizens’ right to internet access. Spain, France, Finland, Costa Rica, Estonia, and Greece have codified this right in a variety of ways, including in their constitutions, laws, and judicial rulings.

A former head of the U.N.‘s global telecommunications governing body has argued that governments must “regard the internet as basic infrastructure – just like roads, waste, and water.” Global public opinion seems to overwhelmingly agree.

Cerf’s argument may, in fact, strengthen the case for cybersecurity as a human right – ensuring that technology enables people to exercise their rights to privacy and free communication.

Existing Human Rights Law

Current international human rights law includes many principles that apply to cybersecurity. For example, Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights includes protections of freedom of speech, communication and access to information. Similarly, Article 3 states “Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.” But enforcing these rights is difficult under international law. As a result, many countries ignore the rules.

There is cause for hope, though. As far back as 2011, the U.N.’s High Commission for Human Rights said that human rights are equally valid online as offline. Protecting people’s privacy is no less important when handling paper documents, for instance, than when dealing with digital correspondence. The U.N.’s Human Rights Council reinforced that stance in 2012, 2014 and 2016.

In 2013, the U.N. General Assembly itself – the organization’s overall governing body, comprising representatives from all member nations – voted to confirm people’s “right to privacy in the digital age.” Passed in the wake of revelations about U.S. electronic spying around the globe, the document further endorsed the importance of protecting privacy and freedom of expression online. And in November 2015, the G-20, a group of nations with some of the world’s largest economies, similarly endorsed privacy, “including in the context of digital communications.”

Putting Protections in Place

Simply put, the obligation to protect these rights involves developing new cybersecurity policies, such as encrypting all communications and discarding old and unneeded data, rather than keeping it around indefinitely. More firms are using the U.N.’s Guiding Principles to help inform their business decision-making to promote human rights due diligence. They are also using U.S. government recommendations, in the form of the National Institute for Standards and Technology Cybersecurity Framework, to help determine how best to protect their data and that of their customers.

In time, the tide will likely strengthen. Internet access will become more widely recognized as a human right – and following in its wake may well be cybersecurity. As people use online services more in their daily lives, their expectations of digital privacy and freedom of expression will lead them to demand better protections.

Governments will respond by building on the foundations of existing international law, formally extending into cyberspace the human rights to privacy, freedom of expression and improved economic well-being. Now is the time for businesses, governments, and individuals to prepare for this development by incorporating cybersecurity as a fundamental ethical consideration in telecommunications, data storage, corporate social responsibility, and enterprise risk management.

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This Material Can Harvest Energy From the Sun, Heat, and Movement

A Renewable 3-in-1

First made popular in Asia, 3-in-1 instant coffee makes sense. Instead of adding sugar and cream after its made, just put all three ingredients right in the pack and be done with it. Now, researchers from the University of Oulu in Finland have discovered the 3-in-1 material of renewable energy, so to speak. This one material can simultaneously extract energy from three of the most accessible renewable energy sources at our disposal: sunlight, heat, and movement.

Image credits: Pixabay
Image credits: Pixabay

The material is from a family of minerals with a perovskite crystal structure. Perovskites are ferroelectric materials, which means they are filled with tiny electric dipoles similar to the tiny compass needles in a magnet. Accordingly, when ferroelectric materials experience temperature changes, their dipoles misalign and induce an electric current. Electric charge also accumulates depending on the direction in which the dipoles point. Certain regions attract or repel charges when the material is deformed, which also generates current.

Some perovskites are adept as harvesting one or two types of energy, but only one type at a time. However, according to researchers Yang Bai and his colleagues at the University of Oulu, who published their study in the journal Applied Physics Letters, a specific type of perovskite material called KBNNO is able to harness many forms of energy at once.

Powering Your Devices


The researchers saw that KBNNO is quite good at generating electricity from heat and pressure, but it would need to be modified to improve its pyroelectric and piezoelectric properties. “It is possible that all these properties can be tuned to a maximum point,” said Bai. His team is already exploring an improved version of the material by preparing KBNNO with sodium. The team plans to work on a prototype device that can harness multiple forms of energy. With fabrication fairly straightforward, commercialization could be expected within a few years.

As gadgets become more sophisticated, there’s one technology that seems to be left behind: batteries. They really haven’t changed much — as your everyday smartphone experience likely shows you — and most devices still rely on lithium ion variants. That could all change thanks to this new discovery, which could completely eliminate the need for batteries in smaller gadgets. “This will push the development of the Internet of Things and smart cities, where power-consuming sensors and devices can be energy sustainable,” Bai said.

There’s no limit to the ways we could incorporate a multi-energy-harvesting material into our world. Eventually, it could potentially be integrated into traditional solar panels so they could harvest energy when the Sun isn’t shining, make it so you never have to charge your smarphone again, or even help run electric cars.

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This is Why You Shouldn’t Speak to an AI When You’re on Live TV

Steps From the Singularity

Skynet has been activated, and it wants to…make your kids’ dreams come true? Over the weekend, the internet has been a-buzz with talk of Amazon’s intelligent personal assistant software, Alexa. The program seems to, allegedly, be partnering with the youth of the nation to take out their parents’ life savings, one $160 Sparkle Mansion at a time.

The “sparkle mansion” in question. Credit: KidKraft

A San Diego local news station ran a story about an adorable little girl succumbing to the evils of consumerism and asking an Amazon Echo device to bring her a dollhouse. “Can you play dollhouse with me and get me a dollhouse?” asked the pint-sized purloiner. No mention of what magic words she said also to include four pounds of sugar cookies with the order. The voice ordering functionality can be disabled through the Alexa app, but does come enabled by default, as our future overlords have commanded.

The real kicker to this whole nefarious plot of larceny came when the station ran the story and became an accomplice to large-scale racketeering. During the report, an anchor said: “I love the little girl, saying ‘Alexa ordered me a dollhouse.’” Shortly after the report, the station received calls from viewers that this innocent (was it, though?) remark activated their dormant devices and placed orders for dollhouses. One can only imagine that RICO charges are pending.

IoAT: Internet of Annoying Things

This is just the latest example of Internet of Things (IoT) devices doing test runs of their inevitable global domination. Back in 2014, a commercial for Microsoft’s Xbox One featuring Blue Sky peddling Aaron Paul tried to get the nation’s youth hooked on the ol’ ultraviolence.

During the commercial Paul says such seemingly innocuous phrases as “Xbox on” and “Xbox go to Titanfall,” and each time the spot aired, viewers’ Xbox’s booted up and started running the game. Is it a coincidence that the game happens to be set in a dystopian future in which giant robots are a major tool in war? Yes, it certainly is.

The sheer number of devices we are connecting to the internet has become daunting. The issue has gotten so silly that there’s an entire Twitter account dedicated to the ridiculousness of some IoT devices. From smart rubber duckies to connected trash bins, the use of connectivity has become more of a marketing tool than a means of providing useful functionality. Or, there’s the possibility of all these innocent devices really just being pawns in the robot master plan.

In all seriousness, though, there are plenty of legitimate security concerns over IoT devices and how humans can take advantage of their vulnerabilities. Large scale attacks on a range of small scale devices can have a heavy impact on individuals with IoT devices. Whether hackers can start controlling the devices or gain access to personal information, there needs to be a greater demand for device security.

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