government

DARPA’s Launch Challenge offers $10M prize for short-notice, rapid-turnaround rocketry

Getting to space is already tough, but getting there on short notice and then doing it again a couple weeks later? That’s a big ask. Nevertheless, DARPA is asking it as part of its Launch Challenge, announced today at the 34th Space Symposium in Colorado. Teams must take a payload to space with only days to prepare, then do it again soon after — if they want to win the $10M grand prize. The idea is to nurture small space companies under what DARPA envisions as the future of launch conditions in both commercial and military situations. The ability to adapt to rapidly changing circumstances or fail gracefully if not will be critical in the launch ecosystem of the near future. Here’s how it will go down. First, teams will have to pre-qualify to show they have the chops to execute this kind of...

Facebook, Microsoft and others sign anti-cyberattack pledge

Microsoft, Facebook and Cloudflare are among a group of technology firms that have signed a joint pledge committing publicly not to assist offensive government cyberattacks. The pledge also commits them to work together to enhance security awareness and the resilience of the global tech ecosystem. The four top-line principles the firms are agreeing to are [ALL CAPS theirs]: 1. WE WILL PROTECT ALL OF OUR USERS AND CUSTOMERS EVERYWHERE. 2. WE WILL OPPOSE CYBERATTACKS ON INNOCENT CITIZENS AND ENTERPRISES FROM ANYWHERE. 3. WE WILL HELP EMPOWER USERS, CUSTOMERS AND DEVELOPERS TO STRENGTHEN CYBERSECURITY PROTECTION. 4. WE WILL PARTNER WITH EACH OTHER AND WITH LIKEMINDED GROUPS TO ENHANCE CYBERSECURITY. You can read the full Cybersecurity Tech Accord here. So far 34 companies have signed up to th...

UK report urges action to combat AI bias

The need for diverse development teams and truly representational data-sets to avoid biases being baked into AI algorithms is one of the core recommendations in a lengthy Lords committee report looking into the economic, ethical and social implications of artificial intelligence, and published today by the upper House of the UK parliament. “The main ways to address these kinds of biases are to ensure that developers are drawn from diverse gender, ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds, and are aware of, and adhere to, ethical codes of conduct,” the committee writes, chiming with plenty of extant commentary around algorithmic accountability. “It is essential that ethics take centre stage in AI’s development and use,” adds committee chairman, Lord Clement-Jones, in a statement. “The UK has a ...

NASA’s planet-hunting TESS telescope launches Monday aboard a SpaceX rocket

Some of the most exciting space news of the past few years has been about Earth-like exoplanets that could one day (or perhaps already do) support life. TESS, a space telescope set to launch Monday aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, will scan the sky for exoplanets faster and better than any existing platforms, expanding our knowledge of the universe and perhaps finding a friendly neighborhood to move to. The Transit Exoplanet Survey Satellite has been in the works for years and in a way could be considered a sort of direct successor to the Kepler, the incredibly fruitful mission that has located thousands of exoplanets over nearly a decade. But if Kepler was a telephoto aimed at dim targets far in the distance, TESS is an ultra-wide-angle lens that will watch nearly the entire visible sky. ...

Austin is piloting blockchain to improve homeless services

While the vagaries of the cryptocurrency markets are keeping crypto traders glued to their CoinDesk graphs, the real potential of blockchain is its capability to solve real human challenges in a decentralized, private, and secure way. Government officials have increasingly investigated how blockchain might solve critical problems, but now one city intends to move forward with an actual implementation. The city of Austin is piloting a new blockchain platform to improve identity services for its homeless population, as part of a competitive grant awarded by the Mayor’s Challenge program sponsored by Bloomberg Philanthropies. Austin was one of 35 cities to be awarded pilot grants, and the top city from that group will ultimately be awarded $5 million. Steve Adler, the mayor of Austin since 20...

Waymo reportedly applies to put autonomous cars on California roads with no safety drivers

Waymo has become the second company to apply for the newly-available permit to deploy autonomous vehicles without safety drivers on some California roads, the San Francisco Chronicle reports. It would be putting its cars — well, minivans — on streets around Mountain View, where it already has an abundance of data. The company already has driverless driverless cars in play over in Phoenix, as it showed in a few promotional videos last month. So this isn’t the first public demonstration of its confidence. California only just made it possible to grant permits allowing autonomous vehicles without safety drivers on April 2; one other company has applied for it in addition to Waymo, but it’s unclear which. The new permit type also allows for vehicles lacking any kind of traditional manual contr...

Backpage pleads guilty to sex trafficking, CEO faces up to 5 years for money laundering

Backpage .com, for years the primary online platform for the sex trade, has pleaded guilty as a company to charges of sex trafficking in Texas, the state’s attorney general announced today. Its CEO, Carl Ferrer, pleaded guilty to money laundering, for which he may be sentenced to up to 5 years in prison. The site was seized last week and a 93-count indictment issued days later. Ferrer was arrested back in 2016, and will be sentenced “once he’s fulfilled the terms of his plea agreement.” The Texas AG’s office does not elaborate beyond the charges mentioned in the press release, except to say that Ferrer’s cooperation could lead to new ones. Considering the site was an international and popular platform for all kinds of sex-related commerce — allegedly including child trafficking — it seems ...

FCC declines to punish Sinclair for its ‘must-run’ segments and scripts

It was hard to avoid seeing the video posted last week showing local news stations reciting a “must-run” script about fake news from their parent company, Sinclair broadcasting, in eerie synchrony. It creeped out a dozen Senators so much that they asked the FCC to look into it — and Chairman Ajit Pai has responded, saying that’s not going to happen. The Senators’ letter, which you can read here, expresses concern that Sinclair is clearly using its power over local news stations to advance a political agenda at a national level: Sinclair may have violated the FCC’s longstanding policy against broadcast licensees deliberately distorting news by staging, slanting, or falsifying information…Multiple news outlets report that Sinclair has been forcing local news anchors to read Sinclair-mandated...

DroneShield is keeping hostile UAVs away from NASCAR events

If you were hoping to get some sweet drone footage of a NASCAR race in progress, you may find your quadcopter grounded unceremoniously by a mysterious force: DroneShield is bringing its anti-drone tech to NASCAR events at the Texas Motor Speedway. The company makes a handful of products, all aimed at detecting and safely intercepting drones that are flying where they shouldn’t. That’s a growing problem, of course, and not just at airports or Area 51. A stray drone at a major sporting event could fall and interrupt the game, or strike someone, or at a race it may even cause a major accident. Most recently it introduced a new version of its handheld “DroneGun,” which scrambles the UAV’s signal so that it has no choice but to safely put itself down, as these devices are generally programmed t...

Department of Energy hosts competition to train cyber defense warriors

From leaked passwords to identity theft, cybersecurity issues are constantly in the news. Few issues, though, are as important — or as under-reported by the media — as the security of America’s industrial control infrastructure. Oil rigs, power plants, water treatment facilities and other critical infrastructure are increasingly connecting to the internet, but often without the kinds of foolproof security systems in place to ensure bad actors can’t gain access or disrupt service delivery. This is a growing area of the economy with a wealth of jobs, but few students even realize that industrial and infrastructure cybersecurity is an interesting career path. So, over the past three years, the Department of Energy has hosted a Cyber Defense Competition to encourage university students to enga...

Can SaaS principles transform political campaigns as we know them?

In life, they say you get what you pay for. That is no less true in politics, which is fueled by campaign donations and lobbying dollars that move policy on every important issue under the sun. The disclosed expenditures of the DC lobbying industry are more than $3 billion per year, while just the presidential political campaigns spent more than $1.5 billion in 2016. Despite the key role that money plays in American politics, almost no one actually donates to a political campaign. According to the campaign finance watchdog OpenSecrets, just 0.68% of American adults donated more than $200 throughout the 2016 campaign cycle. A $200 contribution may sound like an extraordinary sum, but it’s roughly $8.33 per month throughout the two-year election cycle. Compare the 1.67 million people engaged...

Senator warns Facebook better shape up or get ‘broken up’

In the run-up to Mark Zuckerberg’s first appearance before Congress, Oregon Senator Ron Wyden issued a warning to the company about what it can expect from lawmakers if it doesn’t radically alter course. “Mr. Zuckerberg is going to have a couple of very unpleasant days before Congress next week and that’s the place to start,” Wyden said at the TechFestNW conference in his home state of Oregon on Friday. “There are going to be people who are going to say Facebook ought to be broken up. There have been a number of proposals and ideas for doing it and I think unless [Zuckerberg] finds a way to honor the promise he made several years ago, he’s gonna have a law on his hands.” The Senator added that he would support such a law. For Wyden, concealing the truth about data sharing in the fine print...