Deep Tech

DEEPTECH: Robot Warships, 5G Networks, Face ID, & More!

It Only Sounds Like Science Fiction

An update: we’re not saying that Congress read DeepTech or anything, but they are now mulling a huge FB fine following last week’s deep dive.

The Navy Is Developing a Fleet of Robot Warships

Last week a US Navy official announced that the navy is preparing programs for large, remotely-operated warships. The announcement comes as the US Navy faces a growth problem since Congress has refused to grant an additional $23B per  year to maintain a larger fleet. Operational versions of the robotic ships cost 98% less than traditional manned warships ($20M vs $1B), and they’re also a lot cheaper to operate. Analysts predict that these new unmanned ships are likely to change the face of warfare in the same way that drones did. Obama conducted over 800% more drone strikes than his predecessor. According to the DOD’s own account, the Air Force’s early remote-controlled Predator drone inspired the larger, more autonomous unmanned Reaper drone. Advances in consumer technology have led to drones grounding air traffic in Newark, Gatwick, and Heathrow. If just the sight of a relatively small consumer drone can ground a huge commercial aircraft in broad daylight, imagine what this kind of ship would do to the 45 known ballistic missile submarines just chillin’ off the coast of EVERYWHERE. Let’s hope we have a Vasili Arkhipov on deck if things do go overboard.

Disable Your Phone’s Face ID Now. Seriously.  

Yesterday, Microsoft’s chief Satya Nadella warned of the rise of a surveillance state and called on the government to regulate facial recognition technologies. But, according to a new study by Center for Data Innovation, Americans just DGAF anymore about face recognition and privacy. Authors of the report attribute the shifting American attitudes to handheld consumer technology. One problem is that facial recognition technology is often inaccurate and has racial and gender biases. The bigger problem is that flawed programs like Amazon Rekognition are being used for employment, law enforcement, and even stalking. Anyone can simply upload a photo to a face finder app, then discover the subject’s identity and associated online accounts, and begin tracking the person. Civil rights advocates warn of a perpetual lineup. So, what can you do? First, turn off Face ID on your phone. Seriously. You could also try out some anti-surveillance makeup or even a printable mask.

5G Networks: Pie in the Sky or Skynet?

5G networks are the next generation of mobile wireless networks that are supposed to connect everything from vehicles to appliances at impressive speeds. Unlike 4G networks, 5G networks (the G is for generation) use higher frequency radio waves to achieve higher data rates and much faster speeds. But the problem is that the networks still need to be developed, and one of 5G’s leading developers, Huawei, is also a security threat. Germany and Australia have already banned Huawei from providing 5G equipment. And, Poland has just arrested Huawei employees for espionage. The risk is that equipment could have a back door built in to allow Beijing to collect, intercept, and store data. Another risk is that 5G networks are inherently vulnerable to cyberattacks in ways that previous networks were not, mostly because the Trump administration’s FCC eliminated the 5G cyber protection plan begun by the previous administration. The FCC has also allegedly “leveraged its power as a regulator to influence regulated companies to further its agenda in seeking a more friendly court.” Security analysts have suggested that countries should develop national strategies for 5G deployment that focus on ubiquitous coverage and network security—literally the exact opposite of what the FCC has recently done. But it might not matter much anyway: 5G networks might be able to carry a lot more data, but they still can’t penetrate things like buildings or trees.

Ethics in Gene Editing

Last November, Dr. He Jiankui Frankenstein sparked global outrage when he announced the creation of Lulu and Nana, the world’s first gene-edited humans. Many criticized Dr. He as carelessly disregarding ethical issues in blind pursuit of scientific achievement. Others commended Dr. He for working with a highly stigmatized community in China to create embryos immune to HIV. Dr. He hasn’t been seen in public since, and some have even speculated that he faces the death penalty for his research. But his announcement has set off a race to establish criteria and ethical guidelines on human germline editing. CRISPR technology could eliminate fatal diseases like cystic fibrosis. It could also exacerbate inequality and be weaponized. DARPA has poured millions into developing CRISPR inhibitors. Researchers warn that unregulated germline editing could have disastrous consequences since altering genes in the embryo changes genes in every cell, resulting in changes that will be passed to each subsequent generation. Other researchers fear that outcry over He’s experiment coupled with poor scientific understanding could spark a regulatory backlash. Most researchers agree that scientific progress has simply outstripped regulators’ abilities (or willingness) to keep up. Perhaps they could all agree to just CRISPR up some regulators resistant to bad regulations (and government shutdowns).

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