Let’s Get Our Shit Together—Literally

It’s time to give a crap about crap. To save animals, we need to save their poop. If a bear shits in the woods and a scientist is there to collect it, where will it be stored? The Poop Ark!

A space of functional beauty, the Poop Ark would preserve droppings, chips, turds, pies, frass, scat, guano, and dung from the whole animal kingdom, waiting to be probed and studied. Scientists could make deposits or check out specimens from a diverse collection of casks and vials—the world’s most comprehensive collection of preserved poo. Its walls would be smooth and cool, and its visitor log would read like a who’s who of biological science. It would be in parts a museum collection, library, time capsule, and monument.

As of today, the Poop Ark is only my (clogged) pipe dream. But we need to start building it soon. Each year as more of Earth’s animals drop their species’ last deposit, its potential collection diminishes.

Poop is much [...]  read more

Quashing Racist Pseudoscience Is Science’s Responsibility

Though these two classes (the mainstream and the fringe) are very different, each contributes to the public confusion that directly or indirectly feeds the racist pseudoscience machine. For example, though the Buffalo terrorist was deeply entrenched in the alt-science world, his screed featured cherry-picked, out-of-context figures and data from mainstream science—published in Nature, about genes associated with “educational attainment”—to support his worldview. This is consistent with the work of scholars who have documented that white nationalist circles consume the mainstream genetics literature at a high rate.

The question is not about what we have a right to ask, but about how we can let science do what it does best: select the useful ideas and discard the broken ones.

The mainstream research that aims to resolve relationships between genes and traits that we care about (e.g., diabetes risk) is important to the betterment of life on Earth (and maybe beyond), [...]  read more

The ‘Form’ Element Created the Modern Web. Was It a Big Mistake?

The web was born to publish documents—in particular, physics papers from CERN, the great laboratory where Tim Berners-Lee, the very first web developer, was employed to do smart information things. But technology evolves … Actually, forgive the digression, but technology doesn’t evolve. Everyone says it evolves, but true evolution includes a whole lot of death. Not all software survives, of course (I’m typing this in Google Docs, not on a Xerox Alto), but as anyone who has investigated the Windows control panels can tell you, there’s a lot of decades-old code in our systems. If people evolved like technology, you’d be 6,000 lizards, 30 chimps, and a couple Neanderthals all glued together with an anguished human face stretched across it as a “visual refresh.” </digression>

Anyway, the World Wide Web may be the most proudly agglutinative technology in history. After a few early tweaks and changes (e.g., removing the <blink> tag), HTML has almost [...]  read more

A Bored Ape Lawsuit Won’t Set the NFT Precedent Seth Green Wants

The first thing you should probably do if you find yourself in Seth Green’s position is not tweet about how much you’re “looking forward to precedent setting debates on IP ownership & exploitation.”

Green, an actor best known for his pouty portrayal of archvillain Dr. Evil’s disappointing son in the Austin Powers franchise, has become the butt of crypto’s latest bad joke. Earlier this month, Green lost his prized Bored Ape when he fell for a scam and made himself vulnerable to thieves by interacting with a clone of another NFT project’s website. Clone sites can be virtually indistinguishable from the originals, often with only a letter or two missing from their domain names. Green is not the first to lose an NFT this way, and he won’t be the last. Hacking and good old-fashioned con artistry are endemic in the magical world of Gutter Cats and Happy Hippos.

What makes Green unique is that he had a lot more riding on his Ape than most members [...]  read more

Tech Leaders Can Do More to Avoid Unintended Consequences

In 1936, social scientist Robert Merton proposed a framework for understanding different types of unanticipated consequences—perverse results, unexpected drawbacks, and unforeseen benefits. Merton’s choice of words (“unanticipated” rather than “unintended”) was by no means random. But the terms have, over time, become conflated.  

“Unanticipated” gets at our inability or unwillingness to predict future harmful consequences. “Unintended” suggests consequences we simply can’t imagine, no matter how hard we try. The difference is more than semantics—the latter distances entrepreneurs and investors from responsibility for harmful consequences they did not intend. I like the term “unconsidered consequences,” because it puts the responsibility for negative outcomes squarely in the hands of investors and entrepreneurs.

 [...]  read more

Volodymyr Zelensky and the Art of the War Story

In 2003, VOLODYMYR Zelensky, then 25 and freshly licensed to practice law, formed an organization “to make the world a better place using humor and creativity.”

The organization was Kvartal 95 Studio, a production company that has created, among other hits, a sitcom about the zany burden of in-laws. The In-Laws suffered a setback in 2017 when one of its stars was banned from Ukraine for publicly supporting the Russian annexation of Crimea.

But it’s Servant of the People, in which Zelensky played the president of Ukraine, for which Zelensky, who is now the president of Ukraine, is best known. Stagecraft was practice for statecraft, and he now produces nonfiction video dispatches from the front lines of the war. They serve as field reporting, pleas for weapons, and arias that glorify Ukraine. But the videos have done more than win Ukraine moral and military support. They have created a serialized manifesto—one that makes the case for liberal democracy [...]  read more

Do People Caught on Ring Cameras Have Privacy Rights?

Big picture, there’s no legal issue with posting surveillance cam content. Experts agree that it is generally legal to post video footage captured in a public space where the subject of the video lacks a reasonable expectation of privacy. (Things get a bit trickier with audio recordings, where states vary in consent rules, but, again, these rules often don’t apply when a person is in a public space, like on a sidewalk.) While a person’s front door area is legally considered “private” for Fourth Amendment purposes—meaning the police can’t snoop around without a warrant—a homeowner can surveil their own space. Accordingly, the decision to post content is almost entirely at the discretion of the camera’s owner, who also carries the burden of ensuring that their use of surveillance devices does not violate local privacy ordinances, according to Ring’s terms of service.

For its part, Ring warns users against using cam footage in a manner that is “harmful, [...]  read more

An EU Law Could Let US Prosecutors Scan Phones for Abortion Texts

The drive to protect children online will soon collide with an equal and opposing political force: the criminalization of abortion. In a country where many states will soon treat fetuses as children, the surveillance tools targeted at protecting kids will be exploited to target abortion. And one of the biggest threats to reproductive freedom will unintentionally come from its staunch defenders in the European Union.

Last week the EU unveiled draft [...]  read more

Drones Are Turning Into Personal Flying Machines

Ever since he was a kid in Sweden, Peter Ternström wanted to make a sci-fi-style flying machine. In 1983 he saw Return of the Jedi five times and dreamed of zooming through the forest of Endor on a levitating speeder. But as a smart young nerd he quickly realized a hovering vehicle wasn’t possible.

“There was no propulsion system that worked,” he recalls with a sigh. Sure, people had been trying to make personal flying devices for decades—most notably jetpacks. But jetpack physics was a nightmare. Strapping an explosive tank of fuel to your body and trying not to burn your legs off? Not really a scalable solution to personal mobility.

So Ternström shelved his youthful dream and went on to become a dotcom millionaire by building an online learning platform and the Swedish version of Mailchimp. Flying cars, not gonna happen.

Except that technology evolves in a funny way. While Ternström was doing those dotcom firms, a different flying [...]  read more

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