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The Israeli Moon Lander Is About to Touch Down

SpaceIL's Moon lander, Beresheet, is expected to touch down on the lunar surface on Thursday, landing Israeli a place in the history books.

Lunar Lander

If all goes according to plan, Israel will earn a place in history on Thursday as the fourth nation ever to land a spacecraft on the Moon — and unlike any craft that came before it, this Moon lander was privately funded.

Beresheet is the work of SpaceIL, a nonprofit Israeli space company. On Feb. 21, the company launched its $100 million spacecraft on a journey to the Moon aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, and on April 4, it settled into the Moon’s orbit.

The next step in the mission is for Beresheet to attempt to land on the surface of the Moon sometime between 3 and 4 p.m. ET on Thursday.

Watch Along

Beresheet’s target landing site is in the northeastern part of Mare Serenitatis, also known as the Sea of Serenity.

“On the basis of our experience with Apollo, the Serenitatis sites favor both landing safety and scientific reward,” SpaceIL team member Jim Head said in a press release.

SpaceIL and Israel Aerospace Industries, the company that built Beresheet, will live-stream Thursday’s touch-down attempt, so the world will have a chance to watch along as Israel tries to land itself a spot in the history books.

READ MORE: Israel’s Beresheet space probe prepares for historic moon landing [NBC News]

More on Beresheet: Israel’s Moon Lander Just Got Photobombed by the Earth

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The Israeli Moon Lander Is About to Touch Down

Some People Are Exceptionally Good at Predicting the Future

Some people are adept at forecasting, predicting the likelihood of future events, and a new contest aims to suss them out.

Super-Forecasters

Some people have a knack for accurately predicting the likelihood of future events. You might even be one of these “super-forecasters” and not know it — but now there’s an easy way to find out.

BBC Future has teamed up with UK-based charity Nesta and forecasting services organization Good Judgement on the “You Predict the Future” challenge. The purpose is to study how individuals and teams predict the likelihood of certain events, ranging from the technological to the geopolitical.

All Winners

Anyone interested in testing their own forecasting skills can sign up for the challenge to answer a series of multiple-choice questions and assign a percentage to how likely each answer is to come true.

“When you’re part of the challenge, you’ll get feedback on how accurate your forecasts are,” Kathy Peach, who leads Nesta’s Centre for Collective Intelligence Design, told BBC Future. “You’ll be able to see how well you do compared to other forecasters. And there’s a leader board, which shows who the best performing forecasters are.”

Collective Intelligence

You’ll also be helping advance research on collective intelligence, which focuses on the intellectual abilities of groups of people acting as one.

Additionally, as Peach told BBC Future, “New research shows that forecasting increases open-mindedness, the ability to consider alternative scenarios, and reduces political polarisation,”  — meaning even if you don’t find out you’re a “super-forecaster,” you might just end up a better person after making your predictions.

READ MORE: Could you be a super-forecaster? [BBC Future]

More on forecasting: Forecasting the Future: Can the Hive Mind Let Us Predict the Future?

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Some People Are Exceptionally Good at Predicting the Future

MIT Prof: If We Live in a Simulation, Are We Players or NPCs?

An MIT scientist asks whether we're protagonists in a simulated reality or so-called NPCs who exist to round out a player character's experience. 

Simulation Hypothesis

Futurism readers may recognize Rizwan Virk as the MIT researcher touting a new book arguing that we’re likely living in a game-like computer simulation.

Now, in new interview with Vox, Virk goes even further — by probing whether we’re protagonists in the simulation or so-called “non-player characters” who are presumably included to round out a player character’s experience.

Great Simulation

Virk speculated about whether we’re players or side characters when Vox writer Sean Illing asked a question likely pondered by anyone who’s seen “The Matrix”: If you were living in a simulation, would you actually want to know?

“Probably the most important question related to this is whether we are NPCs (non-player characters) or PCs (player characters) in the video game,” Virk told Vox. “If we are PCs, then that means we are just playing a character inside the video game of life, which I call the Great Simulation.”

More Frightening

It’s a line of inquiry that cuts to the core of the simulation hypothesis: If the universe is essentially a video game, who built it — and why?

“The question is, are all of us NPCs in a simulation, and what is the purpose of that simulation?” Virk asked. “A knowledge of the fact that we’re in a simulation, and the goals of the simulation and the goals of our character, I think, would still be interesting to many people.”

READ MORE: Are we living in a computer simulation? I don’t know. Probably. [Vox]

More on the simulation hypothesis: Famous Hacker Thinks We’re Living in Simulation, Wants to Escape

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MIT Prof: If We Live in a Simulation, Are We Players or NPCs?

Here’s How Big the M87 Black Hole Is Compared to the Earth

The black hole that scientists imaged is a stellar giant. It would take millions of Earths lined up side-by-side to span its length.

Pale Black Dot

On Wednesday, a team of scientists from around the world released the first ever directly-observed image of the event horizon of a black hole.

The black hole, M87*, is found within the constellation Virgo — and as the webcomic XKCD illustrated, it’s as big as our entire solar system.

Stellar Giant

The gigantic black hole, not counting the giant rings of trapped light orbiting it, is about 23.6 billion miles (38 billion kilometers) across, according to Science News.

Meanwhile, the Earth is just 7,917 miles in diameter — meaning our planet wouldn’t even be a drop in the bucket of the giant, black void. Based Futurism’s calculations, it would take just over 2.98 million Earths lined up in a row to span the length of M87*. For a sense of scale, that’s about how many adult giraffes it would take to span the diameter of Earth.

Paging Pluto

Our entire solar system is just about 2.27 billion miles wide, meaning we could just barely fit the whole thing into the newly-imaged black hole’s event horizon.

Thankfully, M87* is about 55 million light years away — so while we could readily fit inside its gaping maw, we’re way too far to get sucked in.

READ MORE: Revealed: a black hole the size of the solar system [Cosmos]

More on M87*: Scientists: Next Black Whole Image Will Be Way Clearer

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Here’s How Big the M87 Black Hole Is Compared to the Earth

Amazon Workers Listen to Your Alexa Conversations, Then Mock Them

A new Bloomberg piece shared the experiences of Amazon workers tasked with listening to Alexa recordings, and what they hear isn't always mundane.

I Hear You

Amazon pays thousands of workers across the globe to review audio picked up by its Echo speakers — and their behavior raises serious concerns about both privacy and safety.

Bloomberg recently spoke with seven people who participated in Amazon’s audio review process. Each worker was tasked with listening to, transcribing, and annotating voice recordings with the goal of improving the ability of Amazon’s Alexa smart assistant to understand and respond to human speech.

But sometimes, according to Bloomberg, they share private recordings in a disrespectful way.

“I think we’ve been conditioned to the [assumption] that these machines are just doing magic machine learning” University of Michigan professor Florian Schaub told Bloomberg. “But the fact is there is still manual processing involved.”

Listen to This

The job is usually boring, according to Bloomberg’s sources. But if they heard something out of the ordinary, they said, sometimes they’d share the Alexa recordings with other workers via internal chat rooms.

Occasionally, it was just because they found the audio amusing — a person singing off-key, for example — but other times, the sharing was “a way of relieving stress” after hearing something disturbing, such as when two of Bloomberg’s sources heard what sounded like a sexual assault.

When they asked Amazon how to handle cases like the latter, the workers said they were told “it wasn’t Amazon’s job to interfere.” Amazon, meanwhile, said it had procedures in place for when workers hear something “distressing” in Alexa recordings.

READ MORE: Amazon Workers Are Listening to What You Tell Alexa [Bloomberg]

More on Echo: Thanks, Amazon! Echo Recorded and Sent Audio to Random Contacts Without Warning

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Amazon Workers Listen to Your Alexa Conversations, Then Mock Them

Scientists Say New Quantum Material Could “‘Download’ Your Brain”

A new type of quantum material can directly measure neural activity and translate it into electrical signals for a computer.

Computer Brain

Scientists say they’ve developed a new “quantum material” that could one day transfer information directly from human brains to a computer.

The research is in early stages, but it invokes ideas like uploading brains to the cloud or hooking people up to a computer to track deep health metrics — concepts that until now existed solely in science fiction.

Quantum Interface

The new quantum material, described in research published Wednesday in the journal Nature Communications, is a “nickelate lattice” that the scientists say could directly translate the brain’s electrochemical signals into electrical activity that could be interpreted by a computer.

“We can confidently say that this material is a potential pathway to building a computing device that would store and transfer memories,” Purdue University engineer Shriram Ramanathan told ScienceBlog.

Running Diagnostics

Right now, the new material can only detect the activity of some neurotransmitters — so we can’t yet upload a whole brain or anything like that. But if the tech progresses, the researchers hypothesize that it could be used to detect neurological diseases, or perhaps even store memories.

“Imagine putting an electronic device in the brain, so that when natural brain functions start deteriorating, a person could still retrieve memories from that device,” Ramanathan said.

READ MORE: New Quantum Material Could Warn Of Neurological Disease [ScienceBlog]

More on brain-computer interface: This Neural Implant Accesses Your Brain Through the Jugular Vein

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Scientists Say New Quantum Material Could “‘Download’ Your Brain”

NASA Is Funding the Development of 18 Bizarre New Projects

Through the NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) program, NASA funds projects that go

Nurturing the Bizarre

NASA isn’t afraid to take a chance on the weird. In fact, it has a program designed for that specific purpose, called NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) — and on Wednesday, the agency announced 18 bizarre new projects receiving funding through the program.

“Our NIAC program nurtures visionary ideas that could transform future NASA missions by investing in revolutionary technologies,” NASA exec Jim Reuter said in a press release. “We look to America’s innovators to help us push the boundaries of space exploration with new technology.”

Sci-Fi to Sci-Fact

The 18 newly funded projects are divided into two groups: Phase I and Phase II.

The 12 recipients of the Phase I awards will each receive approximately $125,000 to fund nine month’s worth of feasibility studies for their concepts. These include a project to beam power through Venus’ atmosphere to support long-term missions, a spacesuit with self-healing skin, and floating microprobes inspired by spiders.

The six Phase II recipients, meanwhile, will each receive up to $500,000 to support two-year studies dedicated to fine-tuning their concepts and investigating potential ways to implement the technologies, which include a flexible telescope, a neutrino detector, and materials for solar surfing.

“NIAC is about going to the edge of science fiction, but not over,” Jason Derleth, NIAC program executive, said in the press release. “We are supporting high impact technology concepts that could change how we explore within the solar system and beyond.”

READ MORE: NASA Invests in Potentially Revolutionary Tech Concepts [Jet Propulsion Laboratory]

More on bizarre NASA plans: New NASA Plan for Mars Is Moderately-Terrifying-Sounding, Also, Completely-Awesome: Robotic. Bees.

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NASA Is Funding the Development of 18 Bizarre New Projects

Report: Tesla Doc Is Playing Down Injuries to Block Workers’ Comp

Former Tesla and clinic employees share how doctors blocked workers' compensation claims and put injured people back to work to avoid payouts.

Here’s A Band-Aid

Tesla’s on-site clinic, Access Omnicare, has allegedly been downplaying workers’ injuries to keep the electric automaker off the hook for workers’ compensation.

Several former Tesla employees, all of whom got hurt on the job, and former employees of Access Omnicare, told Reveal News that the clinic was minimizing worker injuries so that the automaker wouldn’t have to pay workers’ comp — suggesting that the barely-profitable car company is willing to do whatever it takes to stay out of the red and avoid negative press.

Back To Work

Reveal, which is a project by the Center for Investigative Reporting, described cases in which employees suffered electrocution, broken bones, and mold-related rashes while working in a Tesla factory — only for Omnicare to deny that the injuries warranted time off work.

The clinic’s top doctor “wanted to make certain that we were doing what Tesla wanted so badly,” former Omnicare operations manager Yvette Bonnet told Reveal. “He got the priorities messed up. It’s supposed to be patients first.”

Missing Paperwork

Meanwhile, employees who requested the paperwork to file for workers’ comp were repeatedly ignored, according to Reveal.

“I just knew after the third or fourth time that they weren’t going to do anything about it,” a former employee whose back was crushed under a falling Model X hatchback told Reveal. “I was very frustrated. I was upset.”

The automaker is on the hook for up to $750,000 in medical payments per workers’ comp claim, according to Reveal‘s reporting.

Meanwhile, both Tesla CEO Elon Musk and Laurie Shelby, the company’s VP of safety, have publicly praised Access Omnicare, Reveal found. Musk even recently announced plans to extend it to other plants, “so that we have really immediate first-class health care available right on the spot when people need it.”

READ MORE: How Tesla and its doctor made sure injured employees didn’t get workers’ comp [Reveal News]

More on Tesla: Video Shows Tesla Autopilot Steering Toward Highway Barriers

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Report: Tesla Doc Is Playing Down Injuries to Block Workers’ Comp

Infertile Couple Gives Birth to “Three-Parent Baby”

A Greek couple just gave birth to a three-parent baby, the first conceived as part of a clinical trial to treat infertility.

Happy Birthday

On Tuesday, a couple gave birth to what researchers are calling a “three-parent baby” — giving new hope to infertile couples across the globe.

After four cycles of in vitro fertilization failed to result in a pregnancy, the Greek couple enrolled in a clinical trial for mitochondrial replacement therapy (MRT) — meaning doctors placed the nucleus from the mother’s egg into a donor egg that had its nucleus removed. Then they fertilized the egg with sperm from the father and implanted it into the mother.

Due to this procedure, the six-pound baby boy has DNA from both his mother and father, as well as a tiny bit from the woman who donated the egg.

Greek Life

The Greek baby wasn’t the first “three-parent baby” born after his parents underwent MRT — that honor goes to the offspring of a Jordanian woman who gave birth in 2016.

However, in her case and others that followed it, doctors used the technique to prevent a baby from inheriting a parent’s genetic defect. This marked the first time a couple used MRT as part of a clinical trial to treat infertility.

“Our excellent collaboration and this exceptional result will help countless women to realise their dream of becoming mothers with their own genetic material,” Nuno Costa-Borges, co-founder of Embryotools, one of the companies behind the trial, said in a statement.

READ MORE: Baby with DNA from three people born in Greece [The Guardian]

More on three-parent babies: An Infertile Couple Is Now Pregnant With a “Three-Parent Baby”

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Infertile Couple Gives Birth to “Three-Parent Baby”

Just 19 Percent of Americans Trust Self-Driving Cars With Kids

A new survey by AAA shows that most Americans distrust self-driving cars. In the past two years, public trust in the emerging technology has gone down.

Poor Turnout

While tech companies like Waymo, Uber, and Tesla race to be the first to build a fully-autonomous vehicle, the public is left eating their dust.

About 71 percent of Americans say that they don’t trust self-driving cars, according to a new American Automobile Association (AAA) survey. That’s roughly the same percentage as last year’s survey, but it’s eight points higher than in 2017, according to Bloomberg and just 19 percent say they’d put their children or family members into an autonomous vehicle.

Overall, the data is a striking sign of public fatigue with self-driving cars.

Track Record

Autonomous vehicles, unlike some other emerging technologies, have suffered very public setbacks, including when an Uber vehicle struck and killed a pedestrian a year ago.

“It’s possible that the sustained level of fear is rooted in a heightened focus, whether good or bad, on incidents involving these types of vehicles,” said AAA director of automotive engineering Greg Brannon in a statement obtained by Bloomberg. “Also it could simply be due to a fear of the unknown.”

Uphill Battle

The AAA survey found that Americans are more accepting of autonomous vehicle tech in limited-use cases. For example, 53 percent of survey respondents were okay with self-driving trams or shuttles being used in areas like theme parks, while 44 percent accepted the idea of autonomous food-delivery bots.

Self-driving car companies are currently engaging in public relations efforts to earn people’s trust, Bloomberg reports. But if these AAA numbers are any indication, there’s a long way to go.

READ MORE: Americans Still Fear Self-Driving Cars [Bloomberg]

More on autonomous vehicles: Exclusive: A Waymo One Rider’s Experiences Highlight Autonomous Rideshare’s Shortcomings

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Just 19 Percent of Americans Trust Self-Driving Cars With Kids

Elon Musk: $47,000 Model Y SUV “Will Ride Like a Sports Car”

A Familiar Car

First, it was supposed to feature Model-X-style “falcon wing” doors, and then it didn’t. It was supposed to be built in the Shanghai factory, but that didn’t work out either.

Tesla finally unveiled its fifth production car, the Model Y, at its design studio outside of Los Angeles Thursday evening.

“It has the functionality of an SUV, but it will ride like a sports car,” Tesla CEO Elon Musk said during the event. “So this thing will be really tight on corners.”

Bigger than the 3, Smaller Than the X

Yes, acceleration is still zippy: zero to 60 in 3.5 seconds.

But the vehicle is less than revolutionary. It’s arguably the company’s second crossover sports utility vehicle, after the Model X, and it borrows heavily from the company’s successful Model 3. In fact, 75 percent of its parts are the same, according to CEO Elon Musk.

The back of the Y is slightly elevated in the back for a roomier cargo space. A long-range model will feature seven seats — just like the Model X, despite being slightly smaller. Range: still 300 miles with the Long Range battery pack, thanks to its aerodynamic shape.

It will also be “feature complete” according to Musk, referring to the fact that the Model Y will one day be capable of “full self-driving” that he says “will be able to do basically anything just with software upgrades.”

10 Percent Cheaper

As expected, the Model Y is ten percent bigger and costs roughly ten percent more than the Model 3: the first Model Y — the Long Range model — will be released in the fall of 2020 and will sell for $47,000. A dual-motor all-wheel drive version and a performance version will sell for $51,000 and $60,000, respectively.

If you want to save a buck and get the ten-percent-cheaper-than-the-Model-3 version, you’ll have to wait: a Standard Range (230 miles) model will go on sale in 2021 for just $39,000.

Overall, the Model Y seems like a compromise: it’s not a radical shift, but it seems carefully designed to land with a certain type of consumer — and, if Musk is to be believed, without sacrificing Tesla’s carefully-cultivated “cool factor.”

Investors seemed slightly underwhelmed, too — the company’s stock reportedly slid up to five percent after the announcement.

READ MORE:  Tesla unveils Model Y electric SUV with 300 miles range and 7-seats [Electrek]

More on the Model Y: Elon Musk: Tesla Will Unveil Model Y Next Week

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Elon Musk: $47,000 Model Y SUV “Will Ride Like a Sports Car”

Samsung Is Working on Phone With “Invisible” Camera Behind Screen

A Samsung exec has shared new details on the company's efforts to create a full-screen phone, one with the camera embedded beneath the display.

Punch It

Just last month, South Korean tech giant Samsung unveiled the Galaxy S10, a phone with just a single hole punched in the screen to accommodate its front-facing camera.

On Thursday, a Samsung exec shared new details on the company’s intentions to create a “perfect full-screen” phone, with an “invisible” camera behind the screen to eliminate the need for any visible holes or sensors — confirming that one of the biggest players in tech sees edge-to-edge screens as the future of mobile devices.

Hidden Tech

During a press briefing covered by Yonhap News Agency, Samsung’s Mobile Communication R&D Group Display Vice President Yang Byung-duk said the company’s goal is to create a phone with a screen that covers the entire front of the device — but consumers shouldn’t expect it in the immediate future.

“Though it wouldn’t be possible to make (a full-screen smartphone) in the next 1-2 years,” Yang said, “the technology can move forward to the point where the camera hole will be invisible, while not affecting the camera’s function in any way.”

Quest for Perfection

This isn’t Samsung’s first mention of an uninterrupted full-screen phone — as pointed out by The Verge, the company discussed its ambitions to put the front-facing camera under a future device’s screen during a presentation in October.

That presentation included a few additional details on how the camera in a full-screen phone would work.

Essentially, the entire screen would serve as a display whenever the front-facing camera wasn’t in use. When in use, however, the screen would become transparent, allowing the camera to see through so you could snap the perfect selfie — and based on Yang’s comments, that new innovation could be just a few years away.

READ MORE: Samsung Seeks Shift to Full Screen in New Smartphones [Yonhap News Agency]

More on Samsung: Samsung Just Revealed a $1,980 Folding Smartphone

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Samsung Is Working on Phone With “Invisible” Camera Behind Screen

Special Announcement: Futurism Media and Singularity University

Futurism acquired by Singularity University

So, Readers –

As always, we’ve got some news about the future. Except this time, it’s about us.

We’re about to enter the next chapter of Futurism, one that will usher in a new era for this site. It’ll come with new ways we’ll be able to deliver on everything you’ve grown to read, watch, subscribe to, and love about what we do here. And also, more in volume of what we do, with larger ambitions, and ultimately, a higher level of quality with which we’re able to bring those ambitions to fruition.

As of today, Futurism Media is proud to announce that we’re joining operations with Singularity University. In other words: They bought us, they own us, and quite frankly, we’re excited about the deal.

It’s an excitement and an occasion we share in with you, our community of readers — aspiring and working technologists, scientists, engineers, academics, and fans, who carried us to where we are, who helped make this independent media company what it is today. We’ve always been humbled by your support, and we’ve worked to reciprocate it by publishing one of the most crucial independent technology and science digital digests, every day, full stop.

What this changes for you? Nothing. Really. Except: More of what you’ve come to count on Futurism.com to deliver every time you’ve read our stories, opened our emails, swiped up on our ‘Gram, watched our videos, dropped in on our events, clicked through a Byte, and so on. This partnership represents the sum total of the work you’ve engaged with, and the start of a new chapter in which we’ll be able to deliver on more of the above.

That means increased coverage of the emergent, cutting-edge innovation and scientific developments changing the world, and the key characters and narratives shaping them (or being shaped by them). It means an expanded, in-depth feature publishing program, arriving this Spring (it’s rad, and it’s gonna blow your socks off). It means more breaking news reporting and analysis. It means original media products you haven’t seen from us before — new verticals, microsites, other ways for you to get in the mix with our coverage. And yes, by working in concert with Singularity University, we’re going to have a pretty decent competitive advantage: Direct access to the characters and personas shaping our future, the people, ideas, and innovations right at the frontier of exponential growth technologies. Our branded content team, Futurism Creative, will also continue to produce guideline-abiding, cutting-edge, thoughtful and engaging content for our partners, and for the partners of SU, too. And finally, our Futurism Studios division will continue to push the envelope of feature-length narrative storytelling of the science fiction (and science fact) stories of that future.

Will this change our journalism? Not in the slightest. We’ll still be operating as an independent, objective news outlet, without interference from our partners, who will continue to hold us to the same ethics and accountability standards we’ve held ourselves to these last few years. There might be more appearances from the folks at SU in our work (not that SU’s proliferate network of notable alumni or board members haven’t previously made appearances around these parts prior to this), but by no means will SU be shoehorning themselves into what we do here.

Yet: Where the opportunity exists, we’ll absolutely seize on the chance to co-create and catalyze action together to shape the technology and science stories on the horizon, to say nothing of that future itself. We’ll continue to make quality the primary concern — and they’re here to support that mandate, and augment this team with additional resources to accomplish it. If even the appearance of a conflict presents itself, as always, we’ll default to disclosure. But it’d be absurd of us not to take advantage of the immense base of knowledge our new partners in Mountain View have on offer (an apt comparison here would be, say, Harvard Business Review to H.B.S. or M.I.T. and our contemporaries at the MIT Technology Review).

We’ve been circling this partnership for a while; they, fans of ours, and us, fans of theirs. The original mandate of Futurism as written by our C.E.O. Alex Klokus was to increase the rate of human adaptability towards the future through delivering on the news of where that future is headed. Singularity University concerns itself with educating the world on the exponential growth technologies changing our lives. It’s a perfect merging of interests. Where exponential growth technologies are concerned: One only need look as far as the way online advertising and social platforms changed the economics of media to see this. To find a home with a growing institution that will prove increasingly vital to the growing global community they’ve already established in spades is the best possible outcome. And no, we didn’t get crazy-rich or anything. But we did galvanize the future (and all its possibilities) for everyone at this company, and our ability to keep serving you, our readers.

We’re immensely proud of the scrappy, tight team here; and especially you, our community of readers and partners we’ve grown with these last few years. We’re proud of the product we’ve created, especially last year, when we steered away from reliance on social media platforms for an audience, and reconfigured an editorial strategy around the priority of driving you directly to Futurism.com daily, by prioritizing quality, topicality, reliability, and on-site presentation (shocker: it worked). Now, we proud to be able to do more, better, of what we’ve always done here:

Tell the stories of tomorrow, today. On behalf of the entire Brooklyn-based Futurism team, thanks for being along for the ride so far, and on behalf of the new Futurism x Singularity University family, here’s to more of where that came from.

The future, as ever, is looking bright. We can’t wait to tell you about it.

– Foster Kamer
Director of Content

James Del
Publisher

Sarah Marquart
Director of Strategic Operations

Geoff Clark
President of Futurism Studios

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Special Announcement: Futurism Media and Singularity University

Presidential Hopeful Beto O’Rourke Belonged to Infamous Hacker Group

2020 Presidential hopeful Beto O'Rourke was reportedly part of the hacktivist group known as the Cult of the Dead Cow during his teenage years.

Political Hack

Presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke just admitted to spending his teenage years as part of the Cult of the Dead Cow (CDC), a group of hackers that first coined the term “hacktivism.”

O’Rourke, who failed to unseat Senator Ted Cruz in the 2018 midterm election and recently decided to run for president instead of challenging Senator John Cornyn in 2020, told Reuters that he credits the hacker group for helping develop his worldview — an intriguing admission for an unusual candidate who skateboards and used to play in a punk band.

Hacker-Lite

According to Reuters, there’s no evidence that O’Rourke actually engaged in any sort of serious hacking, though he did cop to stealing the long-distance phone service necessary for reaching the online message boards of the day.

Rather, O’Rourke seemed to spend his time in the Cult of the Dead Cow writing and sharing fiction with the community, such as a short story he wrote at age 15 about running over children in a car, Reuters reports.

“We weren’t deliberately looking for hacking chops,” CDC founder Kevin Wheeler told Reuters, describing the group’s attitude during the period of time O’Rourke was most active. “It was very much about personality and writing, really. For a long time, the ‘test,’ or evaluation, was to write [text files]. Everyone was expected to write things. If we were stoked to have more hacker-oriented people, it was because we’d be excited to have a broader range in our t-files.”

Formative Years

“There’s just this profound value in being able to be apart from the system and look at it critically and have fun while you’re doing it,” O’Rourke said. “I think of the Cult of the Dead Cow as a great example of that.”

The presidential hopeful, who espouses a mix of traditional liberal and libertarian views, describes the group as a sort of network for outcasts from society.

“When Dad bought an Apple IIe and a 300-baud modem and I started to get on boards, it was the Facebook of its day,” he said. “You just wanted to be part of a community.”

READ MORE: Beto O’Rourke’s secret membership in America’s oldest hacking group [Reuters]

More on hacktivism: It’s Now Scary to Be A White Hat Hacker Thanks to the US Government

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Presidential Hopeful Beto O’Rourke Belonged to Infamous Hacker Group

Elon Musk: 2019 Will Be “the Year of the Solar Roof”

During the unveiling of Tesla's highly anticipated Model Y, CEO Elon Musk announced that the company would focus on its Solar Roof and Powerwall in 2019.

Looking Up

During the unveiling of Tesla’s highly anticipated Model Y Thursday night, CEO Elon Musk shared his vision for his company’s immediate future — and it had little to do with cars.

“This is definitely going to be the year of the Solar Roof and Powerwall,” he told the audience, according to Inverse — a sign that Tesla is shifting its focus from the road to the home, with the ultimate goal of creating a fully sustainable future.

Pretty Picture

In August 2017, Tesla gave the world its first glimpse of an installed Solar Roof, and it looked, well, a lot like any other roof. But that was the point — Tesla’s solar tiles didn’t have the jarring appearance of many home solar panels.

That aesthetically pleasing design — combined with the tiles’ affordability and “infinity warranty” — had solar energy expert Senthil Balasubramanian predicting Tesla would be a “game changer” for clean energy.

With the exception of the occasional massive battery project, though, we haven’t heard much about Tesla’s home energy products since then. The company spent much of 2017 and 2018 focused on getting through the Model 3’s “production hell” and dealing with the fallout from Musk’s latest public misstep.

Under One Roof

But now that Model 3 production is humming along, Tesla has the bandwidth to shift some of its engineering focus back to its Solar Roof and home batteries, according to Musk — and that should go a long way toward helping the company meet its ambitious goal of a more sustainable energy system.

“Solar plus battery plus electric vehicles, we have a fully sustainable future,” Musk told the audience Thursday. “That’s a future you can feel really excited and optimistic about. I think that really matters.”

READ MORE: Tesla Solar Roof: Elon Musk Declares 2019 Will Be the Year of the Roof [Inverse]

More on Tesla: Solar Expert Predicts Tesla Will Be a “Game-Changer” for Clean Energy

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Elon Musk: 2019 Will Be “the Year of the Solar Roof”

This Guy Spent a Whole Week In a VR Headset

Jak Wilmot, co-founder of Disrupt VR, an Atlanta-based VR content studio, spent 168 consecutive hours in a VR headset, locked up in his apartment.

The Dumbest Thing

Jak Wilmot, the co-founder of Atlanta-based VR content studioDisrupt VR, spent 168 consecutive hours in a VR headset — that’s a full week — pent up in his apartment.

“This is quite possibly the dumbest thing I’ve ever done, but welcome to a week in the future,” he said in a video about the experiment.

To make the experience even more futuristic, Wilmot livestreamed the entire week on Twitch late last month, later uploading a wrapup video on his entire week on YouTube.

The rules were simple: he could switch from a computer-based Oculus headset to a different, untethered headset for thirty seconds while his eyes were closed. His windows were blacked out, he said, so that his physical body didn’t have to rely on the daylight-dependent circadian rhythm.

His more mobile VR headset had a built in camera in the front, so that he was able to “see” his physical surroundings — but not directly with his own eyes.

“Everything is in the Headset”

Wilmot worked, ate and exercised inside virtual reality. Sleeping in the headset turned out to be “more comfortable” than Wilmot anticipated, though his eyes burned a bit.

“If one is feeling stressed, they can load into a natural environment for ten minutes and relax,” he said in the video. “If one is feeling energetic, they can dispel energy in a fitness game — these are like the new rules of the reality I’ve thrown myself in. Everything is in the headset.”

VR Connection

Wilmot believes that virtual reality is what you make it. If you want to be alone, you can spend time by yourself in a gaming session, slaying dragons in Skyrim VR. Or you can chose to join the cacophony of VRChat — a communal free-for-all multiplayer online platform that allows you to interact with avatars controlled by complete strangers.

“VR is stepping into the shoes of someone else, or stepping into a spaceship and talking to friends,” said Wilmot. “It’s very easy to find your tribe, to make friends, to communicate with others through a virtual landscape, where its no longer through digital window [like a monitor], but actually being there with them. To me that’s what VR is — connection.”

Escaping Virtual Reality

After seven days of living inside the headset, Wilmot took off the goggles and relearned what it’s like to live in the real world.

Experiment_01… ????????

Subject Status… ????? pic.twitter.com/HC0Jqb3aZq

— jak (@JakWilmot) February 27, 2019

Apart from slight dizziness and some disorientation, he came back to normal almost instantly.

One major advantage to not living inside a VR headset: “oh my gosh,” he said, “the graphics are so good.”

READ MORE: This Guy Is Spending A Full Week In VR, For Science [VR Scout]

More on virtual reality: Sex Researchers: For Many, Virtual Lovers Will Replace Humans

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This Guy Spent a Whole Week In a VR Headset

How Can We Build Cities to Accommodate 6.5 Billion People?

By 2050, 6.5 billion people will choose to live in cities. These individuals will require employment and access to better healthcare from an infrastructure that is already extremely vulnerable. The Global Maker Challenge asked makers and innovators to help put forward solutions for this issue, and they delivered.

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How Can We Build Cities to Accommodate 6.5 Billion People?

Here’s How Hackers Stole $15 Million From Mexican Banks

In April, bank hackers stole the equivalent of $20 million from Mexico's central bank thanks to a network rife with security flaws.

Ocean’s Once

In April 2018, hackers stole the equivalent of $15 million from Mexican banks — and now we know how they probably did it.

Penetration tester and security advisor Josu Loza was one of the experts called in to respond to the April heist, and on March 8 he presented his findings at the RSA Security conference in San Francisco.

Based on his analysis, Mexico’s central bank wasn’t doing nearly enough to protect its clients’ money — but other financial institutions could avoid the same fate if they’re willing to work together.

Easy Money

On Friday, Wired published a story detailing the information Loza shared with the audience at RSA’s conference. Based on his assessment, the success of the heist was due to a combination of expert bank hackers willing to spend months planning their crime and a banking network rife with security holes.

During the presentation, Loza made the case that the hackers might have accessed the Banco de México’s internal servers from the public internet, or perhaps launched phishing attacks on bank executives or employees to gain access.

Regardless of how they first got access, Loza said, the main problem was putting too many eggs in one security basket. Because many of the networks lacked adequate segmentation and access controls, he argued, a single breach could provide the bank hackers with extensive access.

That enabled them to lay the groundwork to eventually make numerous money transfers in smaller amounts, perhaps $5,000 or so, to accounts under their control. They’d then pay hundreds of “cash mules” each a small sum — Loza estimated that $260 might be enough — to withdraw the money for them.

Cyber Insecurity

The bank hackers are still at large, but the heist appears to have served as a wake-up call for the Banco de México.

“From last year to today the focus has been implementing controls. Control, control, control,” Lazo said during his presentation, according to Wired. “And I think the attacks aren’t happening today because of it.”

He also noted the need for companies to collaborate to defend against cyberattacks.

“Mexican people need to start to work together. All the institutions need to cooperate more,” Loza said. “The main problem on cybersecurity is that we don’t share knowledge and information or talk about attacks enough. People don’t want to make details about incidents public.”

READ MORE: HOW HACKERS PULLED OFF A $20 MILLION MEXICAN BANK HEIST [Wired]

More on hacking: Hacker Figures out How to Drain $1 Million in Cash From ATM

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Here’s How Hackers Stole $15 Million From Mexican Banks

Slack Just Removed a Bunch of Hate Groups

Workplace messaging app Slack just announced that it banned 28 accounts that were known to be affiliated with hate groups.

Violating Terms

Slack, the team collaboration app commonly used to connect people within workplaces, announced Thursday that it had deleted 28 accounts that were clearly affiliated with hate groups, according to the company’s blog.

The announcement, sparse on concrete details or specifics, states that hate groups are explicitly unwelcome on the app and that Slack will continue to investigate and act on any future reports of hate speech or illegal activity.

“Today we removed 28 accounts because of their clear affiliation with known hate groups,” the statement reads. “The use of Slack by hate groups runs counter to everything we believe in at Slack and is not welcome on our platform.”

Joining the Fight

In recent years, major platforms like Facebook and Twitter have struggled to keep white supremacists and other hate groups from spreading their messages across the internet, though both ban Nazi messaging in Germany, where Holocaust denial is illegal.

Smaller scale platforms like Discord also recently started acting against hate groups, according to The Verge, which speculates that Slack’s focus on business communications instead of cultivating largescale communities may have helped the company avoid the issue of online hatemongering.

Real World Consequences

When hate speech is allowed to propagate online, it can lead to real-world violence — like the murder of Heather Heyer at a 2017 white supremacist rally. But banning hate groups and de-platforming the people behind them, as Slack claims to have done, is a successful strategy.

When right-wing activist Milo Yiannopolous was no longer permitted by online platforms to spread his racist and misogynistic viewpoints, he found himself effectively powerless and millions of dollars in debt, according to The Guardian.

“Using Slack to encourage or incite hatred and violence against groups or individuals because of who they are is antithetical to our values and the very purpose of Slack,” the company’s statement reads. “When we are made aware of an organization using Slack for illegal, harmful, or other prohibited purposes, we will investigate and take appropriate action and we are updating our terms of service to make that more explicit.”

READ MORE: Slack says it removed dozens of accounts affiliated with hate groups [The Verge]

More on content moderation: The UK Government Is Planning to Regulate Hate Speech Online

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Slack Just Removed a Bunch of Hate Groups

NASA: Space Travel Is Causing Astronauts’ Herpes to Flare Up

Tests show that dormant herpes viruses reactivate in more than half the astronauts who travel on the Space Shuttle and International Space station.

Dormant Viruses

Tests show that dormant herpes viruses reactivate in more than half the astronauts who travel on the Space Shuttle and International Space station, according to new NASA research — a phenomenon the space agency says could pose problems for deep space missions.

“During spaceflight there is a rise in secretion of stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline, which are known to suppress the immune system, ” said study author Satish Mehta, a researcher at Johnson Space Center, in a press release. “In keeping with this, we find that astronaut’s immune cells — particularly those that normally suppress and eliminate viruses — become less effective during spaceflight and sometimes for up to 60 days after.”

Less Effective

In research published last month in the journal Frontiers in Microbiology, Mehta and colleagues found that astronauts shed more herpes viruses in their urine and saliva than before or after space travel. The culprit, they suspect, is just the stress of spaceflight.

“NASA astronauts endure weeks or even months exposed to microgravity and cosmic radiation — not to mention the extreme G forces of take-off and re-entry,” Mehta said in the press release. “This physical challenge is compounded by more familiar stressors like social separation, confinement and an altered sleep-wake cycle.”

Minor Symptoms

Fortunately, symptoms were relatively rare. Out of 89 astronauts the team studied, only six experienced herpes breakouts in space, according to the paper — a rate of about seven percent.

The viral shedding also got worse the longer the astronauts were off Earth, leading researchers to worry the phenomenon could represent a challenge for deep space travel.

“While only a small proportion develop symptoms, virus reactivation rates increase with spaceflight duration and could present a significant health risk on missions to Mars and beyond,” reads the press release.

READ MORE: Dormant viruses activate during spaceflight [Phys.org]

More on herpes: Immune Cells Working Together To Kill Herpes Virus Captured on Video

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NASA: Space Travel Is Causing Astronauts’ Herpes to Flare Up


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