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The Year Of Hacking: Remembering The 10 Biggest Cyber Attacks Of 2014

hacksOf all the technology stories of 2014, the topic that leaves the biggest impression is hacking. The big Target hack happened just before Christmas 2013, and while that certainly wasn’t the first time a company or organization got infiltrated, it was at the time the biggest, and paved the way for hackers’ domination in 2014. These incidents from 2014 have made a few things clear: 1. that no company is immune to the mischief of hackers; 2. that hacking is poised to be re-characterized as “cyber terrorism,” for better or for worse, and 3. these breaches are becoming the new normal. That may not be the cheeriest news, but it means that everyone, individuals and corporations alike, need to be aware of these threats and do whatever they can to protect themselves.

While the Sony hack remains front and center given the ensuing terror threats, movie screening cancellation, subsequent release of The Interview, and then the hacking of Xbox and Playstation networks on Christmas by a group calling itself “Lizard Squad,” there are a slew of other incidents this year that were bigger and worse (at least, for the masses) than Sony’s.

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U.K. Group Crowdfunds Their Mission To The Moon, Details Here

Lunar Mission OneYou really can crowdfund anything these days. Big filmmakers have turned to this avenue as a way to fund movies studios and other traditional investors pass over, all kinds of gadgets and gizmos would never see the light of day without this strategy, and you even see all kinds of businesses acquire their start up capital this way. You can even finance your trip to the Moon if you’re so inclined, which is a feat that one intrepid group of would be space explorers just successfully accomplished.

The U.K-based collection of scientists and engineers known as Lunar Mission One recently hit their target goal of 600,000 pounds (roughly $1 million U.S.) on Kickstarter, reaching their goal with more than a day to spare (they ultimately hit 672,000). With more than 6800 backers, their ultimate aim is to send a robotic probe to the surface of the moon in order to drill and perform research.

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Poisonous Mushrooms May Be The Key To Curing Some Diseases

mushroomMushrooms are seriously weird. Fungi have properties unlike those of other organisms—or don’t have certain properties, as the case may be. They lack a respiratory and digestive system, and their food digestion happens outside their bodies. They like eating dead things, and eating certain mushrooms can make the adventurous but ignorant forager into a dead thing. It’s that poisonous quality that has led researchers at Michigan State University and China’s Kunming University of Science and Technology to discover that killer mushrooms might end up leading to groundbreaking medical treatments.

The study, published in Chemistry and Biology, details how the researchers were able to isolate and identify a particular enzyme that causes mushrooms’ toxicity. The enzyme creates molecules called cyclic peptides, which hone in on the human liver and attack a specific part of it, poisoning the consumer. Cyclic peptides have become popular with pharmaceutical companies, which synthesize them in the lab and then use them for a whole range of treatments—they’re used as antibacterials, immune-boosting drugs, and tumor-fighting drugs. They have a high resistance to the human digestive process, so they stay intact and remain effective after ingested.

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Scientists Use A Laser To Try And Recreate The Beginning Of Life, Here’s How

prague asterisk laser system

Prague asterisk laser system

While scientists are confident that the universe began in a big bang, they’re not sure how life actually came to Earth—likely, it arrived on a comet, asteroid, or a meteorite , perhaps even from Mars. One of the ways scientists deal with questions of the unknown is to try and simulate mysterious events or processes with computer simulations. But in this latest case, scientists used a laser to try and recreate what may have been the first life on Earth.

Given that scientists don’t have access to asteroids to hurl down into the primordial ooze, they had to try and replicate that force and energy. For this experiment scientists from the Czech Republic and from the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado used a laser, which they directed at clay and a primordial chemical soup. What they ended up with seemed, at least to them, to be the origin of life on Earth.

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Computer Vision Is Closing The Gap

image recognitionOne of the biggest breakthroughs in computer science has been the ability to simulate human neural networks via programs and algorithms, thereby combining the power of artificial intelligence with the computing power of the human brain. This advancement will aid in creating artificial “superintelligence,” as well as figuring out how the human brain works in an attempt to simulate it — and perhaps consciousness itself — in a machine (which scientists recently did with a worm). One specific aspect of mimicking human neural networks that has been particularly challenging is vision and object recognition, which has recently yielded some impressive and promising results, and now has taken another leap forward. Neuroscientists at MIT recently conducted a study that indicates that recent advancements in “deep neural networks” allow computer networks to see and recognize objects just as well as primates.

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This Double Amputee Controls Two Prosthetics At Once

double prostheticGFR has done a lot of reporting on the breakneck pace of the prosthetics development, including mind-controlled prosthetics and exoskeletons. It’s mind-blowing to think that someone without a limb can simply think/desire to move a bionic replacement and it will do just that, including allowing a paraplegic teen to kick a soccer ball. Now, in yet another first in the field, a double-amputee has become the first person in the world to control two prosthetic limbs at once.

40 years ago, Les Baugh lost both of his arms in an accident. He recently received two of Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory’s Modular Prosthetic Limbs, which look and feel like regular human arms; possess similar strength and flexibility; have over 100 sensors that aid in touch, pressure, and positioning; and connect to a wearer via a neural interface. In order to be fitted with the prosthetics, Baugh had to have target muscle reinnervation surgery—a recent surgical breakthrough that readies the nerves for connection to the arm by “reassigning” them.

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