Technology

Privacy Pitfalls as Education Apps Spread Haphazardly

Digital learning aids have long been on the market, but the latest learning apps are getting cleverer – cheap to download, easy to use and marketed directly to teachers without the hassle of being approved by school boards. In this age, schools have no control, and often no idea of what teaching and learning aids are being used in their classrooms, posing a huge risk for the students. Not only is the students’ learning often unmonitored, their personal records are often available for public access. Recent data breaches in several school districts have frightened teachers and parents alike. Many school districts are privately testing and often banning some of the most popular teaching apps, but the multi-billion dollar industry is not taking a hit. Most of the companies are offering teachers free access to apps that excel in adaptive learning, tailored to each individual student; for the teachers, the pros simply outweigh the cons.

Read an excerpt of the article written by Natasha Singer:

At school districts across the country, the chief technology officers responsible for safeguarding student data are tearing their collective hair out. Scores of education technology start-ups, their pockets full from a rush of venture capital, are marketing new digital learning tools directly to teachers — with many offering them free to get a foothold in schools. That has enabled educators nationwide to experiment with a host of novel ‘‘adaptive learning’’ products, like math and foreign language apps that record and analyze students’ online activities to personalize their lessons. But the new digital tools have also left school district technology directors scrambling to keep track of which companies are collecting students’ information — and how they are using it. ..read more

Aids for the Indecisive, When Options Abound

Indecision is supposedly a vice, but the indecisive amongst us have a reprieve – a new generation of decision making apps are coming to our rescue. One of these, ChoiceMap, uses an interactive interface in conjunction with decision making algorithms to allow us to make the most rational choice in every possible situation. Decision Buddy takes the concept one step further to include group decisions. On the other hand, Decide Now takes the math right out of it, acting more as a digital 8-Ball. Simply ask the app what to choose, and it’ll tell you – no deliberation required.

Read an excerpt of the article written by Kit Eaton:

For the indecisive among us, help is on the way. A new generation of apps meant to help with day-to-day decision making is here. Assuming you can decide which to use, these apps may help bring some order to your life. Perhaps the smartest decision-making app I’ve used is ChoiceMap, because it’s easy to use and it makes it feel as if your decision has been intelligently considered by the app’s algorithms. ChoiceMap, which is free for iOS, tries to make the process as smooth as possible. To start, you describe a choice to make or use one of the app’s many templates on diverse topics, like choosing baby names or which phone carrier to use. ..read more

F.A.A. Rules Would Limit Commercial Drone Use

In a recent move, the Federal Aviation Administration proposed new rules for unmanned aircrafts used for commercial purposes. These new rules could impose severe restrictions on the drones used by amazon, google, and other companies. Commercial drones, an emerging industry unlike any other, could radically change the way we think about goods and services. But along with it comes the threat of surveillance, invasion of privacy and occupational dangers. The FAA considers these dangers significant enough to impose large scale restrictions on the use of such technology. It’s interesting that the theoretical misuse of commercial drones and microdrones does not hold a candle to armed drones used to murder civilians in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Yemen, yet those remain curiously unregulated and unchecked.

Read an excerpt of the email written by Scott Shane:

In an attempt to bring order to increasingly chaotic skies, the Federal Aviation Administration has proposed long-awaited rules on the commercial use of small drones, requiring operators to be certified, fly only during daylight and keep their aircraft in sight. Announced Sunday, the rules, though less restrictive than the current ones, appear to prohibit for now the kind of drone delivery services being explored by Amazon, Google and other companies, since the operator or assigned observers must be able to see the drone at all times without binoculars. But company officials believe the line-of-sight requirement could be relaxed in the future to accommodate delivery services. The proposed regulations would cover only nonrecreational unmanned aircraft weighing up to 55 pounds and would not apply to the recreational use of drones, which have become hugely popular with hobbyists and are covered by other rules. ...read more

Obama heads to Silicon Valley security talks amid tensions

DAVID E. SANGER AND NICOLE PERLROTH explore the future of encryption technology, and its relationship with the government. He writes about the advancements in technology at big tech companies like Google and Apple, and how they deal with cybersecurity issues in an increasingly dangerous world. The government, however, is steadfastly anti-encryption, since it prevents them from being able to gain access to the private lives of their citizens, a hallmark of the modern American government. This beef extends to telecommunications, with the government demanding access to people’s personal phone calls at any time. Large companies are focused on encryption strong enough to prevent incidents at stores like Target, when large scale thefts of credit card numbers have occurred in the past. The government however, is unlikely to back down. Magana examines what this means for you and me, and for technology as a whole.

Read an excerpt of the article written by DAVID E. SANGER AND NICOLE PERLROTH: 

President Obama was to meet here on Friday with the nation’s top technologists on a host of cybersecurity issues and the threats posed by hackers. But nowhere on the agenda is the real issue for the chief executives and tech company officials who will gather on the Stanford campus: the growing estrangement between Silicon Valley and the government. The long history of quiet cooperation between Washington and America’s top technology companies — first to win the Cold War, then to combat terrorism — was founded on the assumption of mutual interest. But the Obama administration’s efforts to prevent companies from greatly strengthening encryption in commercial products like the iPhone and Google’s email services has shattered that assumption. And there is continuing tension over the government’s desire to stockpile flaws in software — known as zero days — for future use against adversaries. ‘‘What has struck me is the enormous degree of hostility between Silicon Valley and the government,’’ said Herb Lin, who spent 20 years working on cyberissues at the National Academy of Sciences before moving to Stanford several months ago. ‘‘The relationship has been poisoned, and it’s not going to recover anytime soon.’’ Mr. Obama’s cybersecurity coordinator, Michael Daniel, concedes there are tensions. American firms, he says, are concerned about international competitiveness, and that means making a very public show of their efforts to defeat American intelligence-gathering by installing newer, harder-to-break encryption systems and demonstrating their distance from the United States government. The F.B.I., the intelligence agencies and David Cameron, the British prime minister, have all tried to stop Google, Apple and other companies from using technology that the firms themselves cannot break into — meaning they cannot turn over emails or pictures, even if served with a court order. The firms have vociferously opposed government requests for such information as an intrusion on the privacy of their customers and a risk to their businesses. ‘‘In some cases that is driving them to resistance to Washington,’’ Mr. Daniel said in an interview. ‘‘But it’s not that simple. In other cases, with what’s going on in China,’’ where Beijing is insisting that companies turn over the software that is their lifeblood, ‘‘they are very interested in getting Washington’s help.’’ Mr. Daniel’s reference was to Silicon Valley’s argument that keeping a key to unlocking terrorist and kidnappers’ secret communications, as the government wants them to do, may sound reasonable in theory, but in fact would create an opening for others. It would also create a precedent that the Chinese, among others, could adopt to ensure they can get into American communications, especially as companies like Alibaba, the Chinese Internet giant, become a larger force in the American market. ‘‘A stupid approach,’’ is the assessment of one technology executive who will be seeing Mr. Obama on Friday, and who asked to speak anonymously. That tension — between companies’ insistence that they cannot install ‘‘back doors’’ or provide ‘‘keys’’ giving access to law enforcement or intelligence agencies and their desire for Washington’s protection from foreign nations seeking to exploit those same products — will be the subtext of the meeting. That is hardly the only point of contention. ...Read more

One Republic of Learning

ARMAND MARIE LEROI tackles the question of stagnation in the humanities. When universities trim their budgets, it is inevitably the humanities that are hit first and often the worst. This lack of funding leads to a certain type of stagnation in the fields. But he notes a new field that has recently come up to counter this – the digitization of classical texts. Choski then explores the ins and outs of this new technology and what it means for scholars. For one, it means putting mathematical analysis into humanities texts. What that means for literary critics and the like, whose anecdotal evidence is usually accepted at face value, is an unfortunate, and some would argue unnecessary, reality check. This mathematical analysis could even extend to art, Choski explains, using Rothko as an example.

Read an excerpt of the article written by Armand Marie Leroi:

In the Republic of Learning humanities scholars often see themselves as second-class citizens. Their plaintive cries are not without cause. When universities trim budgets it is often their departments that take the hit. In the last 10 years, however, there has been one bright spot: the ‘‘digital humanities,’’ a vast enterprise that aims to digitize our cultural heritage, put it online for all to see, and do so with a scholarly punctilio that Google does not. The digital humanities have captured the imaginations of funders and university administrators. They are being built by a new breed of scholar able to both investigate Cicero’s use of the word ‘‘lascivium’’ and code in Python. If you want to read Cicero’s letter in which lascivium appears, or the lyrics of 140,000 Dutch folk songs, now you can. Texts are living things: Digitization transforms them from caterpillars into butterflies. But the true promise of digitization is not just better websites. Rather, it is the transformation of the humanities into science. By ‘‘science’’ I mean using numbers to test hypotheses. Numbers are the signature of science; they allow us to describe patterns and relationships with a precision that words do not. The quantification of the humanities is driven by an inexorable logic: Digitization breeds numbers; numbers demand statistics. The new breed of digital humanists is mining and visualizing data with the facility that bioinformaticians analyze genomes and cosmologists classify galaxies. All of them could, if they cared to, understand each others’ results perfectly well. Most traditional — analog — humanists, I suspect, delight in the new databases but do not fully grasp their consequences. One great literary critic did so years ago. ‘‘What,’’ asked Harold Bloom in 1973, ‘‘is Poetic Influence anyway? Can the study of it really be anything more than the wearisome industry of source-hunting, of allusion-counting, an industry that will soon touch apocalypse anyway when it passes from scholars to computers?’’ Bloom’s apocalypse arrived in 2012 when a group of mathematicians analyzed the pattern of stylistic influences in more than 7,700 texts. Just the year before, Bloom published ‘‘The Anatomy of Influence,’’ his swan song. Less a work of rational criticism than a testament of personal aesthetic faith, its claims are immune to quantitative tests, or indeed tests of any kind. ‘‘I am an Epicurean literary critic, reliant upon sensations, perceptions, impressions,’’ he wrote. But scientists know that impressions lie; that they tell us what we want to hear, not what is. It’s easy to see how it will go. A traditional, analog, scholar will make some claim about the origin, fate or significance of some word, image, trope or theme in some Great Work. He’ll support it with apt quotations, and fillet the canon for more of the same. His evidence will be the sort that natural scientists call ‘‘anecdotal’’ — but that won’t worry him since he’s not doing science. But then a code-capable graduate student will download the texts — not just the canon, but a thousand more — run the algorithms, produce the graphs, estimate the p values, and show the claim to be false, if false it indeed is. There will be no rejoinder; the analog scholar won’t even know how to read the results. Quantification has triumphed in field after field of the natural and social sciences. It will here, too. Science, however, is not just about measurement. Science offers theories — of a particular kind. The French poet Paul Valéry said that a ‘‘work of art becomes a machine intended to excite and combine the individual formations’’ of our minds. Yes, but how does the machine work? A comparison with biology shows what’s missing. To explain organic diversity, biologists have built a theory of evolution whose major tenets are couched in math and generally agreed. To explain cultural diversity, the humanities have offered only a succession of incommensurable interpretive fashions and uncountable particular studies, many of which, to be sure, enrich our understanding of this writer or that, but which only add texture to the tapestry of culture and do nothing to explain its whole. There is an explanatory vacuum. Some scholars think that it will be filled by something resembling the theory of organic evolution. I think they’re right. But it will also draw elements from epidemiology, cognitive psychology and behavioral economics. Whatever it looks like, we can be sure of one thing: It will be expressed not in words, but equations. If the rudiments of a new cultural science are visible, so are its limits. ...read more

 

When the growth model fails

In this rather metaphysical piece, Daniel Cohen grapples with the constant search for economic growth. He suggests we, as a population, “set aside greed and fear” and invest in the economy without worry. Unfortunately, he notes that most of us are driven by capitalism into a constant need for a higher salary. The environment of constant competition produces the inaccessibility of contentment. Wealth hoarding by the rich, and constant worry about the future by the poor means hardly anyone invests in our economy, leading to stangnation. Cohen also tackles the question of labour in am increasingly mechanized world. He observes that unhappy workers don’t invest in economy, and thus, the happiness of workers is essential to economic growth.

Read an excerpt of the article written by Daniel Cohen:

PARIS — Economic growth is the religion of the modern world, the elixir that eases the pain of conflicts, the promise of indefinite progress. It is the solution to our perennial worries about not getting what we don’t have. And yet, at least in the West, the growth model is now as fleeting as Proust’s Albertine Simonet: Coming and going, with busts following booms and booms following busts, while an ideal world of steady, inclusive, long-lasting growth fades away. In the United States, 80 percent of the population has seen no growth in purchasing power over the last 30 years. In France, annual per capita growth has dropped steadily from 3 percent in the 1970s to less than zero in 2013. In the interim, the political class has been flummoxed by stagnation, a hesitation that has opened the doors to populists of various stripes. But in its desperate search for scapegoats, the West skirts the key question: What would happen if our quest for never-ending economic growth has become a mirage? Would we find a suitable replacement for the system, or sink into despair and violence? John Maynard Keynes, writing at the outset of the economic crisis of the 1930s, warned against misdiagnosing the situation. In his famous article ‘‘Economic Possibilities for Our Grandchildren,’’ he declared that a period of exceptional prosperity was at hand and that the world’s ‘‘economic problem’’ would soon be resolved — just as, in the preceding century, strong growth and food safety arrived on a wave of technical innovation. To wring all we can out of the economic growth model, he said, the world must set aside greed and fear, outdated characteristics of a bygone era of misery. Instead, we must learn to enjoy ourselves — and above all to consume, without restraint and without worrying about tomorrow. Ultimately, Keynes believed that we would end up working only three hours a day and after turn to the truly important tasks of art, culture and religion. Sadly, such metaphysical pursuits have not come to be the world’s priority at this point in history; instead, we still live in fear of poverty, inequality and joblessness. The perpetual quest for material wealth remains our primary goal, despite the fact that we in the West are six times richer than we were in the 1930s. Thus it must be said that Keynes, an intellectual giant of economics, erred: The vast accumulation of wealth hasn’t at all satisfied or moderated the appetites of our materialist society. The so-called Easterlin paradox helps explain Keynes’s mistake. According to the economist Richard Easterlin, wealth does not correlate to happiness. A higher salary is obviously always desirable, yet once we’ve reached that target it is never enough: We fall victim to a process of habituation of which we are largely unaware. Similarly, as we each set goals for ourselves driven by our current desires, we fail to take into account how our desires change over time and in new circumstances. This explains why economic growth, more than pure wealth, is the key to the functioning of our society: It provides each of us with the hope that we can rise above our present condition, even though this dream remains ever elusive. Which brings us to the fundamental question: Will economic growth return, and if it doesn’t, what then? Experts are sharply divided. The pessimists, led by the economist Robert Gordon, believe that the potential for economic growth is now much lower than in the last century. The new industrial revolution may have given us the smartphone, but that hardly compares, in his thinking, to the great advances of the 20th century: electricity, the automobile, the airplane, movies, television, antibiotics. On the other hand, optimists like Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee tell us in their book ‘‘The Second Machine Age’’ that Moore’s Law is going to allow ‘‘the digitization of just about everything.’’ Already, Google is experimenting with driverless cars, and robots are caring for the elderly in Japan: Another burst of growth appears to be at hand. To decide who is right, one must first recognize that the two camps aren’t focusing on the same things: For the pessimists, it’s the consumer who counts; for the optimists, it’s the machines. ...Read more

 

Uber model may point to work’s future

Farhad Manjoo writes abut the ‘uberization’ of work, referring to the introduction of new technology in various fields, just like Uber did.  Uberization will have its benefits: Technology could make your work life more flexible, allowing you to fit your job, or perhaps multiple jobs, around your schedule. Even during a time of renewed job growth, Americans’ wages are stubbornly stagnant, and the on-demand economy may provide novel streams of income.The complication, here, though, is that most taxi drivers are also independent contractors, so the arrangement isn’t particularly novel in the ride business. The larger worry about on-demand jobs is not about benefits but about a lack of agency: a future in which computers, not humans, determine what you do, when and for how much. The author concludes by saying that the on-demand economy may be better than the alternative of software automating all our work, but that isn’t necessarily much of a cause for celebration

Read an excerpt of the article written by Farhad Manjoo:

As Uber has grown to become one of the world’s most valuable start-ups, its ambitions often seem limitless. But of all the ways that Uber could change the world, the most far-reaching may be found closest at hand: your office. Uber, and more broadly the app-driven labor market it represents, are at the center of what could be a sea change in work, and in how people think about their jobs. You may not be contemplating becoming an Uber driver any time soon, but the Uberization of work may soon be coming to your chosen profession. Just as Uber is doing for taxis, new technologies have the potential to chop up a broad array of traditional jobs into discrete tasks that can be assigned to people just when they’re needed, with wages set by a dynamic measurement of supply and demand, and every worker’s performance constantly tracked, reviewed and subject to the sometimes harsh light of customer satisfaction. Uber and its ride-sharing competitors, including Lyft and Sidecar, are the boldest examples of this breed, which many in the tech industry see as a new kind of start-up — one whose primary mission is to efficiently allocate human beings and their possessions, rather than information. ‘‘I do think we are defining a new category of work that isn’t full-time employment but is not running your own business either,’’ said Arun Sundararajan, a professor at New York University’s business school who has studied the rise of the so-called on-demand economy and who is mainly optimistic about its prospects. Uberization will have its benefits: Technology could make your work life more flexible, allowing you to fit your job, or perhaps multiple jobs, around your schedule. Even during a time of renewed job growth, Americans’ wages are stubbornly stagnant, and the on-demand economy may provide novel streams of income. ‘‘We may end up with a future in which a fraction of the work force would do a portfolio of things to generate an income — you could be an Uber driver, an Instacart shopper, an Airbnb host and a Taskrabbit,’’ Dr. Sundararajan said. But the rise of such work could also make your income less predictable and your long-term employment less secure. And it may relegate the idea of establishing a lifelong career to a distant memory. ‘‘I think it’s nonsense, utter nonsense,’’ said Robert B. Reich, an economist at the University of California, Berkeley, who was a labor secretary in the Clinton administration. ‘‘This on-demand economy means a work life that is unpredictable, doesn’t pay very well and is terribly insecure.’’ After interviewing many workers in the on-demand world, Dr. Reich said he had concluded that ‘‘most would much rather have good, well-paying, regular jobs.’’ It is true that many of these start-ups are creating new opportunities for employment, which is a novel trend in tech, especially during an era in which we’re all fretting about robots stealing our jobs. Proponents of on-demand work point out that many of the tech giants that sprang up over the last decade minted billions in profits without hiring very many people; Facebook, for instance, serves more than a billion users, but employs only a few thousand highly skilled workers, most of them in California. To make the case that it is creating lots of new jobs, Uber recently provided some of its data on ridership to Alan B. Krueger, an economist at Princeton and a former chairman of President Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers. Unsurprisingly, Dr. Krueger’s report, which he said he was allowed to produce without interference from Uber, paints Uber as a force for good in the labor market. ...read more

 

3-D printers are transforming medical care

Are 3-D printers transforming medical care? Karen Weintraub writes that they offer doctors the huge advantage of practicing operations beforehand. Such 3-D-printed models are transforming medical care, giving surgeons new perspectives and opportunities to practice, and patients and their families a deeper understanding of complex procedures. Though there has been little research so far into the benefits of 3-D printing or surgical simulations, Department of Veterans Affairs researchers have shown that teamwork exercises in operating rooms reduced patient deaths or injuries by as much as 18 percent. ‘‘Solve one problem, remove one error, identify one latent safety threat, save one life,’’ and it will reduce both personal and financial costs, Dr. Weinstock said.

Read an excerpt of the article written by KAREN WEINTRAUB:

The surgeon held a translucent white plastic eye socket in each hand. Gently moving them away from each other, Dr. John Meara showed the distance between Violet Pietrok’s eyes at birth. He slid the sockets closer to demonstrate their positions 19 months later, after he had operated on her. Violet, now nearly 2, was born with a rare defect called a Tessier facial cleft. Her dark brown eyes were set so far apart, her mother says, that her vision was more like a bird of prey’s than a person’s. A large growth bloomed over her left eye. She had no cartilage in her nose. The bones that normally join to form the fetal face had not fused properly. Her parents, Alicia Taylor and Matt Pietrok, sought out Dr. Meara at Boston Children’s Hospital, thousands of miles from their home in Oregon, because the plastic surgeon had performed four similar operations in the previous three years. Before he operated on Violet, Dr. Meara wanted a more precise understanding of her bone structure than he could get from an image on a screen. So he asked his colleague Dr. Peter Weinstock to print him a three-dimensional model of Violet’s skull, based on magnetic resonance imaging. That first model helped him to decide what might need to be done and to discuss his treatment plan with her family. Three more 3-D printouts closer to the surgery allowed Dr. Meara to rotate the model skull in directions he could not manage with a picture and would not attempt with a patient on the operating table. Then he was able to cut and manipulate the plastic model to determine the best way to push her eye sockets more than an inch closer together. Such 3-D-printed models are transforming medical care, giving surgeons new perspectives and opportunities to practice, and patients and their families a deeper understanding of complex procedures. Hospitals are also printing training tools and personalized surgical equipment. Someday doctors hope to print replacement body parts. ‘‘There’s no doubt that 3-D printing is going to be disruptive medicine,’’ said Dr. Frank Rybicki, chief of medical imaging at the Ottawa Hospital and chairman and professor of radiology at the University of Ottawa. He is the former director of the applied imaging science lab at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, a few blocks from Boston Children’s. ‘‘It makes procedures shorter, it improves your accuracy,’’ said Dr. Rybicki, who uses 3-D printing in his work with face transplants. ‘‘When bioprinting actually hits, it will change everything.’’ For now, the printer extrudes a layer of liquid plastic instead of ink. It adds a second layer, and then another, and a skull or rib cage — or whatever the surgeon dials up — slowly emerges. The same process can also print layers of human cells. So far, researchers have also printed blood vessels, simple organs and bits of bone. A Utah boy’s life was saved last year by a 3-D-printed plastic splint that propped open his windpipe. Dr. Weinstock, director of the Pediatric Simulator Program at Boston Children’s, sees 3-D models as part of a larger program to improve surgical craft. ...read more

Connected devices need tighter safety

Natasha Singer writes about how connected devices need tighter safety. She recommends use of advancements like in-car sensors, glucose monitors, etc. However, they also raise some concerns like protection from criminals who can hijack and misuse intimate information recorded by Internet-connected devices. Natasha concludes by following the agency’s report and recommending that companies should consider putting limits on the amount of information their devices collect from consumers and on the amount of time they retain that data

Read an excerpt of the article written by Natasha Singer:

As more consumers adopt devices that can collect information and transmit it to the Internet, the Federal Trade Commission on Tuesday called on technology companies that sell those products to institute comprehensive measures to protect users’ data security and privacy. Advancements like in-car sensors, which can record vehicle location and speed, or glucose monitors that can send information on diabetic patients to their doctors, have huge potential benefits, like reducing traffic accidents or improving public health. But the agency said the devices, which make up the so-called Internet of Things, also raise serious security and privacy risks that could undermine consumers’ confidence. ‘‘We believe that by adopting the best practices we’ve laid out, businesses will be better able to provide consumers the protections they want and allow the benefits of the Internet of Things to be fully realized,’’ Edith Ramirez, the chairwoman of the commission, said in a statement on Tuesday. One concern is that criminals could potentially hijack and misuse intimate information recorded by Internet-connected devices. ...Read more

Smartphones don't make us dumb

Do smartphones make us dumb? Author Daniel T. Willingham disagrees. Paying attention requires desire, not just ability. Internet doesn’t shorten our attention span but fixes a persistent thought in the back of my mind: Isn’t there’s something better to do than what I’m doing? Given the amount of time people spend with digital devices that sounds ominous; will we actually lose our ability to daydream? The author hopes not. But there’s little evidence that attention spans are shrinking.

Read an excerpt of the article written by DANIEL T. WILLINGHAM:

As much as we love our digital devices, many of us have an uneasy sense that they are destroying our attention spans. We skitter from app to app, seldom alighting for long. Our ability to concentrate is shot, right? Research shows that our intuition is wrong. We can focus. But our sense that we can’t may not be a phantom. Paying attention requires not just ability but desire. Technology may snuff out our desire to focus. The idea that gadgets corrode our attention span sounds logical. Screen-based activities can take upward of 11 hours of a teenager’s day, and many demand rapid shifts of attention: quick camera cuts in videos, frenetically paced games, answering questions in multiple apps, not to mention web design that invites skimming. And we often do all this simultaneously, so attention bounces between two (or three or eight) fast-paced tasks. The theory is that the brain’s plasticity turns this quick mental pivoting into a habit, rendering us unable to sustain attention. But there’s little evidence that attention spans are shrinking. Scientists use ‘‘span’’ to mean two separate things: how much we can keep in mind, and how well we can maintain focus. They measure the former by asking people to repeat increasingly long strings of digits in reverse order. They measure the latter by asking people to monitor visual stimuli for occasional, subtle changes. Performance on these tests today looks a whole lot as it did 50 years ago. Scientists also note that although mental tasks can change our brains, the impact is usually modest. For example, practice with action video games improves some aspects of vision, but it’s a small boost, not an overhaul of how we see. Attention is so central to our ability to think that a significant deterioration would require a retrofitting of other cognitive functions. Mental reorganization at that scale happens over evolutionary time, not because you got a smartphone. But if our attention span is not shrinking, why do we feel it is? Why, in a 2012 Pew survey, did nearly 90 percent of teachers claim that students can’t pay attention the way they could a few years ago? It may be that digital devices have not left us unable to pay attention, but have made us unwilling to do so. The digital world carries the promise of amusement that is constant, immediate and limitless. If a YouTube video isn’t funny in the first 10 seconds, why watch when I can instantly seek something better on BuzzFeed or Spotify? The Internet hasn’t shortened my attention span, but it has fixed a persistent thought in the back of my mind: Isn’t there’s something better to do than what I’m doing? Are we more easily bored than we were 20 years ago? Researchers don’t know, but recent studies support the suggestion that our antennas are always up. People’s performance on basic laboratory tests of attention gets worse if a cellphone is merely visible nearby. In another experiment, people using a driving simulator were more likely to hit a pedestrian when their cellphone rang, even if they had planned in advance not to answer it. ...Read more

Need online spying? Hackers are for hire online

There are many interesting career options and a professional hacker is definitely one of them. The job encompasses hacking personal email ids as well as large business accounts. Relatively new website, hackerslist.com is an easy way for people to connect with a hacker for any work that they may have and are always willing to pay the hacker well. The article written by Matthew Goldstein highlights the growth of this small scale industry and questions its legal legitimacy.

Read an excerpt of the article written by MATTHEW GOLDSTEIN:

 A man in Sweden says he will pay up to $2,000 to anyone who can break into his landlord’s website. A woman in California says she will pay $500 for someone to hack into her boyfriend’s Facebook and Gmail accounts to see if he is cheating on her. The business of hacking is no longer just the domain of intelligence agencies, international criminal gangs, shadowy political operatives and disgruntled ‘‘hacktivists’’ taking aim at big targets. Rather, it is an increasingly personal enterprise. At a time when huge stealth attacks on companies like Sony Pictures, JPMorgan Chase and Home Depot attract attention, less noticed is a growing cottage industry of hackers hired by ordinary people for much smaller acts of espionage. A new website, called Hacker’s List, seeks to match hackers with people looking to enter email accounts, take down unflattering photos from a website or gain access to a company’s database. In less than three months of operation, over 500 hacking jobs have been put out to bid on the site, with hackers vying for the right to do the dirty work. It is done anonymously, with the website’s operator collecting a fee on each completed assignment. The site offers to hold a customer’s payment in escrow until the task is completed. In just the last few days, offers to hire hackers at prices ranging from $100 to $5,000 have come in from around the globe on Hacker’s List, which opened for business in early November. For instance, a bidder who claimed to be living in Australia would be willing to pay up to $2,000 to get a list of clients from a competitor’s database, according to a recent post by the bidder. ‘‘I want the client lists from a competitors database. I want to know who their customers are and how much they are charging them,’’ the bidder wrote. Others posting job offers on the website were looking for hackers to scrub the Internet of embarrassing photos and stories, retrieve a lost password or change a school grade. The rather matter-of-fact nature of the job postings on Hacker’s List shows just how commonplace low-profile hacking has become and the challenge such activity presents for law enforcement at a time when federal and state authorities are concerned about data security. Hacking into individual email or social media accounts occurs on a fairly regular basis, according to computer security experts and law enforcement officials. In September, the Internet was abuzz when hackers posted nude photos of female celebrities online. It is not clear just how successful Hacker’s List will prove to be. A review of job postings found many that had yet to receive a bid from a hacker. Roughly 40 hackers have registered with the website, and there are 844 registered job posters. From the posts, it is hard to tell how many of the offers are legitimate. ...Read more

 

Apps for ringing in 2015, and locking in resolutions

We live in a tech-savvy world, where even 4-year-old kids operate the latest apps. And there are never enough apps, that every year we welcome dozens of them. There are apps that even give us live feed of the New Year countdown at Times Square, that contain maps through which we can watch all the different time zones switch over as the clock strikes 12, that track your workout, bike rides and many more!

Read an excerpt of the article written by Kit Eaton:

It can’t be New Year’s Eve without a fair selection of apps to get you to 2015. But first: the party. The celebration in Times Square is one of the most famous in the world, and, of course, there’s an official app. The Times Square Official Ball App connects you to a social media feed about the party, plus a live stream for the ceremony in which the ball drops at midnight. The app has a countdown timer built in that allows you to know when the new year hits New York City. There’s not much more to this well-designed app, but it’s free for iOS and Android. For a more global take, there is the New Year Countdown app by TimeAndDate.com. Part countdown clock, part global timekeeper, it is great for explaining to children how time zones work. The app’s main page shows a countdown for key places in each time zone, starting with Christmas Island/Kiribati. There’s also a map view where you can watch all the different time zones switch over as 2015 arrives. It’s very simple, but charming, and it’s free on iOS. New Year’s resolutions are notoriously hard to keep, but there are apps to help you build and stick to a habit. My favorite of these is Lift, which promises to help you ‘‘Get fit. Get thin. Get rich. Get promoted. Get happy.’’ The motivation comes from the community of Lift users and some coaches. You can chat with any of these people, for advice or cheerleading. The app can also prompt you with reminders. It’s so easy to use that you won’t waste energy trying to figure it out. It’s free for iOS and Android. ...Read more

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