Tech Giants Unite Against Cyber Attacks

The past few years have seen tech giants display social accountability in different ways, especially when governments seem to lack the effort or perhaps the mobility in helpless situations, as in the case of Tesla providing batteries and Google’s parent, Alphabet, bringing Internet back to Puerto Rico after disaster hit the area. This display of accountability might have recently reached its peak as more than 30 global technology companies signed a joint pledge not to assist governments in cyber attacks.

“We recognise that we live in a new world,” Microsoft president, Brad Smith, said during a speech at the RSA cyber security conference in San Francisco. “We’re living amidst a generation of new weapons, and where cyberspace has become the new battlefield.”

Smith, who led efforts to organise the alliance, said the devastating cyber attacks in 2017 demonstrated the need for the technology sector to “take a principled path toward more effective steps to work together and defend customers around the world.”

Microsoft, Facebook, and many others have announced their cooperation in the Cybersecurity Tech Accord, which seeks to protect customers against cyber attacks regardless of political or criminal motives. New partnerships or networks within the tech industry and with tech researchers might also be built, so that they could share information on cyber threats.

It builds on an idea for a so-called Digital Geneva Convention that Smith rolled out at last year’s RSA conference, a proposal to create an international body to protect civilians from state-sponsored hacking. Countries, Smith said then, should develop global rules for cyber attacks similar to those established for armed conflict at the 1949 Geneva Convention that followed World War Two.

It is also great to hear that in addition to the tech giants working on their own movement to protect civilians, they are also calling on governments for the development on new international rules regarding political conflict.

Even in the transnational geopolitical landscape, perhaps the future of humanity really lies with tech.

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Discarded Electronics Are Literal Gold Mines

If you have seen any dystopian film or have read any piece at all of dystopian literature, you would know that a landscape made of metal offers intense horrors that bank on some of the deep-seated fears of today’s society.

Realistically speaking, we have been inventing ways to address the problem of metal such as recycling laptop batteries into a source of alternative energy or something as strangely innovative as making stylish backpacks out of car parts, but there is a need to push further. A trio of researchers recently took a shot at that and conducted a study which tries to answer how profitable it is to recover metals from old electronics.

In 2016 alone, the world discarded 44.7 million metric tons of unusable or simply unwanted electronics, according to the United Nations’ 2017 Global E-Waste Monitor report. That’s 4,500 Eiffel Towers-worth of phones, laptops, microwaves, and TVs. Only 20 percent of this e-waste was properly recycled that year. The rest was likely either incinerated, pumping pollution into the atmosphere, or added to a landfill somewhere, with its toxins now leaking into our soil and water supply.

It turns out, urban mining costs much less than traditional mining. The researchers from Beijing’s Tsinghua University and Sydney’s Macquarie University published their results in a scientific journal after collecting data from recycling companies in China. While the cost of recycling might vary from country to country, China’s status as the world’s biggest producer of e-waste makes light of the truth that the practice of urban mining could have a big impact on both economic and environmental matters.

[W]e already knew electronics contain precious metals in addition to all that glass and plastic. While a single smartphone might not contain all that much, consumers buy about 1.7 billion of the devices each year. In just one million of those, you’ll find roughly 75 pounds of gold, 35,000 pounds of copper, and 772 pounds of silver.

Necessary reminder though: this is no reason at all to justify our technological consumption practices. If anything, it should make us ask more conscientiously, what do I do with my smartphone once I find a new replacement that has great upgrades and loads informative online articles (like this!) much faster?

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Divers Discover Ancient Castle In Turkey’s Lake Van

Truly, 2017 has been a year of discovery — whether we’ve unearthed something new or deeply hidden in the past. While astronomers observed snow on Mars, casual hikers came across a fossilized Cretaceous water bird. Adding to this year’s list of wow moments are archeologists from the Van Yüzüncü Yıl University. Divers discovered an ancient fortress dating as far back as 9 B.C. in Turkey’s Lake Van.

“It is a miracle to find this castle underwater,” [head diver Tahsin Ceylan] added. “Archaeologists will come here to examine the castle’s history and provide information on it,” he said.

The castle presumably existed under the Uratu civilization in the iron age. Bearing in mind that the structure has been underwater for over 3,000 years, it’s a miracle that its walls are still intact up to 13 feet. Lake Van itself is some 600,000 years old and likely harbors other mysteries.

“With this belief in mind, we are working to reveal the lake’s secrets,” Mr Ceylan added.

Home to unusual stalagmite formations and numerous shipwrecks, who knows what else Lake Van might be hiding?

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London Buses To Run On Coffee Fuel

Coffee: it’s every workaholic’s go-to beverage and, astoundingly, perfect for manufacturing sportswear. Nowadays, it isn’t just perfect for a pick-me-up — it’s potentially fueling London’s signature double-decker buses.

“Instead of sending a tonne of waste coffee grounds to landfill where it degrades and releases methane and CO2, we collect it, recycle it and turn it into a renewable fuel which is then used to replace further conventional fuels – so it’s a double saving”, [said] Bio-bean founder Arthur Kay.

Among the heaviest Americano consumers, Londoners contribute up to 200,000 tons of coffee waste annually. To make the most out of discarded grounds, Bio-bean is extracting 6,000 liters of oil to mix into fuel. The final blend is of 20% biofuel, which will also help to reduce carbon emissions.

“We’re not saying that it’s going to totally replace fossil fuels overnight,” Kay said.

“The amount of diesel produced globally is always going to be more than the amount of coffee.”

Considering London buses run nearly 2 billion trips a year, Bio-bean’s initiative could encourage alternative energy use. Perhaps a beer fuel may even be in talks.

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Chatbot Will Combat Email Scammers For You

Since Instagram developed a bot to tackle hate speech, developers have been training them to do other things. Apart from trolls and cyberbullies, netizens also often deal with email scammers. It’s now a lot less hassle-free to shut them down — just contact Netsafe’s genius chatbot.

Next time you get a dodgy email in your inbox, says Netsafe, forward it on to me@rescam.org, and a proxy email address will start replying to the scammer for you, doing its very utmost to waste their time.

Re:scam isn’t anything fancy. In fact, it doesn’t even recognize speech. Its responses are random at best, but vague enough to be believable. It may not pull off a bust itself, but it’ll buy you enough time (and evidence) to take action.

Netsafe’s new online gadget may not be the most sophisticated, but it surely is a reflection of what artificial intelligence is truly capable of. And if you’re the type of hold a grudge, it’s the perfect tool for sweet revenge.

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Volkswagen To Debut Electric Zero-Emissions Beetle

Eco-friendly vehicles have come a long way from simply being prototypes. Manufacturers have been ambitious with emissions-free cars, even attempting to assemble them using resin. However, for big names in the industry, keeping it simple is key. Known for its funky appearance, the VW Beetle is getting another makeover — this time, it’s going electric.

“If we wanted to do a Beetle, electrically it would be much better than today’s model, much closer to history, because it could be rear-wheel drive,” said [VW chairman Herbert] Diess.

It may still be in the talks, but VW already has its hands full with an electric version of its classic microbus. Despite their overflowing to-do list, it seems fans of the Bug are on their toes. Thrilled prospective customers have been pleading with the chairman to follow through via letters and e-mails.

VW is aiming for a massive revamp of its vehicles by 2030. While that may seem a long ways away, its $24 billion budget speaks volumes about the group’s potential.

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Sri Lanka To Wipe Gas Vehicles By 2025

When improper waste disposal procedures are producing islands of trash, it may be time to consider the weight of environmental issues. One by one, communities are diverting themselves from fossil fuels to pursue more environmentally friendly energy options. For state-owned vehicles in Sri Lanka, electric and hybrid cars will be stepping in as replacements as early as 2025.

Private owners have until 2040 to replace their cars, tuk-tuks and motorcycles, when the country plans to no longer allow any fossil fuel-burning vehicles on its roads… said [Finance Minister Mangala Samaraweera].

Home to roughly 6.8 million vehicles, Sri Lanka’s transition into electric will benefit the country immensely. To encourage a hassle-free switch, the government is encouraging consumers by cutting taxes on electric cars.

“The tax on electric cars will be reduced by over a million rupees (S$8,851) to encourage motorists to switch to clean energy,” Mr. Samaraweera told parliament.

On the other hand, Samaraweera is also hiking carbon and import taxes to discourage keeping gas vehicles. With inflation on the rise, Sri Lanka’s bumpy ride will hopefully segue into smoother (and sustainable) sailing.

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eHighway Electrifies Trucks With Cables

With a rising number of electric buses and taxis headed for the streets, roads are having to undergo adjustments, too. Los Angeles is home to an excess of both trucks and smog. To revamp the deadly duo into something more eco-friendly, Siemens has installed its first electric highway where trucks can charge on-the-go.

“To have the road electrified and have these heavy trucks electrified is just far more efficient from the perspective that you don’t waste fuel, you save energy because the electric motor is far more efficient than the gas motor, and you have no emissions at all,” says Andreas Thon, the head of turnkey projects and electrification in North America.

The trucks are rigged onto overhead wires that run the entire length of the highway. The trucks themselves are cost-efficient, requiring significantly less maintenance than diesel motors. The highway also alleviates battery problems, as they don’t generate enough energy for heavy loads.

Thon says, “With this technology, you permanently feed energy into the truck.”

Siemens also hopes to install charging technology beneath road surfaces — but that will have to wait. After all, it does require a lot more science and a lot more money.

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Uber and NASA To Launch Flying Taxis By 2020

Flying cars may not yet be a reality, but if bridges can sail rivers, can’t be too far behind. Picking up the pace are Uber and NASA, which plan to test their flying vehicles as early as 2020.

Uber is looking to speed development of a new industry of electric, on-demand, urban air taxis, [Chief Product Officer] Holden said, which customers could order up via smartphone in ways that parallel the ground-based taxi alternatives.

Much like a regular Uber, the airborne taxi will hold up to 4 passengers. It will also run at 200 miles an hour — perfect for traffic congested cities. NASA has stepped in to develop a software for air traffic management as well as ensure the taxis are safe.

“We are very much embracing the regulatory bodies and starting very early in discussions about this and getting everyone aligned with the vision,” he said of Uber’s plans to introduce what he called “ride-sharing in the sky”.

Autonomous vehicles may not be everyone’s cup of tea — much less when they’re in the sky. But if NASA is on board with it, it’s likely we will be, too.

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China Testing Trackless Autonomous Train

It’s been a year of firsts for the railway system — from going solar to launching its fastest model. Pushing its limits even further, China is test-driving its Autonomous Rail Rapid Transit system, which is fully electric and trackless.

ART bears the physical appearance of a train but it doesn’t rely on following a track. Instead, it follows a virtual route using an electric powertrain and tires. It’s expected to function much like an urban train or a tram, but since there’s no investment cost in laying down rails, it should be much cheaper to implement.

The train can only travel 15 kilometers at a time, but can fully recharge in just 10 minutes. Environmentalists will likely tip their hats off to the new system — it’s entirely emissions free! Smoggy China could surely use more sustainable public transport alternatives. Thankfully, its government has been taking other measures to ensure that its locals don’t further experience pollution-caused health issues.

40 percent of China’s factories have been shut down, and authorities are reportedly working on a timetable to end the sale of gas- and diesel-powered cars.

A round of applause for China — sounds fresh!

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