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Traffic Lights Are Frighteningly Easy To Hack

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lightWe all know that any smart device or computer system can be hacked these days, but if you start actually enumerating all of the vulnerable gadgets, it gets a bit overwhelming. Phones, smart appliances, fitness trackers all connect to an app that stores your personal information. But that’s not all. Researchers at the University of Michigan recently published a paper in which they show how easy it is to hack traffic lights. Wonderful.

With the help of a Michigan road agency, the team hacked actual stoplights in a city in Michigan. They demonstrated that the current system of IP-based networked traffic lights that send and receive information from a central point might save money, but that its use of wireless radios is a vulnerability that’s troublingly easy to exploit.

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3D-Printed Landmarks And Busts Give The Blind A Feel For The World

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3d printPeople just keep coming up with new ways to make use of 3D printing that never would have occurred to most of us. Lithuania’s Kaunas Library for the Blind is the latest entity to come up with an innovative new use of the technology: printing 3D models of notable landmarks, local buildings, and busts of famous people to give blind people a better sense of what these people and places look like.

Braille blows my mind, even more than sign language. The idea that someone’s fingers can read is paradigm shifting, and while Ray Kurzweil invented a revolutionary reading machine for the blind that converts text to speech all the way back in 1976, the machine is limited to printed words. While access to text and books is certainly huge, focusing on the page makes it easier to forget that blind people have an entirely different experience of the entire world, especially when it comes to absorbing the aesthetics of three-dimensional objects.

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PEW Report Suggests Sex With Robots Will Be Commonplace By 2025

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sexbotWhile I don’t put a ton of stock into political polls, I do pay attention to research polls, especially those conducted by PEW. While science fiction is a good indicator of what might come down the pike with regards to science and technology, asking current scientists and researchers what they think will happen and why is a pretty good strategy too, which is what PEW did for their extensive report on “AI, Robotics, and the Future of Jobs.” There are many opinions suggested in the report with regards to robotic workers and other ways robots will likely infiltrate our world in the next decade. But one of the most interesting findings in the report is that robots will be integrated into “nearly every aspect of life,” including sex.

Lead researcher for GigaOM Research, Stowe Boyd, predicts that “Robotic sex partners will become commonplace, although the source of scorn and division, the way that critics today bemoan selfies as an indicator of all that’s wrong with the world.” First of all, kudos to Boyd for calling out the selfie — I think we can all agree that’s been overplayed. But his statement is interesting because of its two assertions: that sex with robots will be common, and that it will be looked down upon. I think I agree with the first prediction but not so much with the second one.

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Curiosity Got Stuck In A Martian Sand Trap

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CuriosityIf you’re going to go through the effort of sending a mechanical explorer millions of miles across the galaxy, all the way to Mars, you better make damn sure it has the appropriate traction and can function in adverse conditions. NASA recently ran into just this problem with their Curiosity rover, which just got stuck in a sand trap, and no, it’s not the same kind of sand trap you hit your golf ball into last weekend. Curiosity has a job to do, it doesn’t have time to hit the links.

The one-ton rover is in the process of heading to Mount Sharp, which has been its ultimate destination all along, despite the meandering, roundabout route. At 3.4 miles high, the peak sits in the middle of Mars’ Gale Crater, and in order to access the site, Curiosity planned a path through the Hidden Valley (no salad dressing jokes please).

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Mario Kart Makes You Happy — Science Says So

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mariokartWhen I was little, I begged my parents for a Nintendo. No dice. About a week ahead of my ninth birthday, I asked them for only one thing — permission to spend my own money, hard-earned from lawn mowing, leaf raking, and other chores, on a Nintendo. Still no. My parents said they didn’t want me getting up at 3 am to play video games, that they knew me well enough to know I’d become obsessed with a Nintendo if we had one. I was furious, but in retrospect, they were completely right. Back then I compensated by playing games at friends’ houses or riding my bike up to the Pizza Hut that had an arcade version of Super Mario Bros. I do the same thing now, though to a lesser extent. The game I get most excited to play as an adult is Mario Kart, which I’ve been playing on other people’s systems since college. I now live with someone who owns a Wii (don’t tell my parents!) and a few months ago we got Mario Kart 8, which has improved on old versions by allowing players to ride on walls and ceilings, to fly, and to get speed boosts by crashing into others. Even though I may play too much these days, I’m heartened by knowing that good ol’ science has demonstrated that playing Mario Kart actually makes people happier.

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Three Teenagers Release Police-Rating App

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samsung-Five-OYou’d have to be living under a rock not to have heard about the awful events taking place in Ferguson, Missouri. Clashes between police and reportedly peaceful protestors, and even reporters, have been going on for a week now in the aftermath of the shooting of Michael Brown by a Ferguson police officer. The situation has gotten so out of hand that the governor has called in the National Guard. I can’t count the number of articles and op-eds I’ve read in the last week about police brutality, especially against black suspects (and non-suspects), and about the abuse of authority by police in general. It’s not hard to imagine how the situation in Ferguson could be a precursor to a police state, a dystopian vision that plays out in a sci-fi show like Continuum. A lot of people have a lot of ideas about what to do in response to the violence in Ferguson, which is another article (or twelve) in itself, but three teenagers came up with a pretty cool idea: they created an app that gives users the opportunity to rate their local police departments, as well as any individual interactions they have with the police.

“Five-O” (not to be confused with the crossword game already available on iTunes or the Hawaii Five-O fan app) released two days ago. You can download the Android version here. It’s a lot like “rate my professor” or Yelp, and allows people to share their experiences with police in anything from a routine traffic stop to a violent encounter. In addition to sharing the information, it’s a way for people who have suffered police brutality to get their stories and information told around the world.