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Resisting Robocalls
It’s not everyday that 2/3 of the countries state attorneys general agree on a bipartisan basis about something. Leave it to the scam artists flooding our phones with robocalls to bring us all together. You can read the AG’s letter to the FCC urging it to adopt rules and technology that will identify the wheat and burn the chaff flooding our cellular airwaves and landlines. According to the AG’s, “American landline and wireless subscribers received an estimated 30.5 billion illegal robocalls” in 2017, and 2018 is on track for over 40 billion, an increase of 33%.

I can believe it. I have spent the last few months ignoring a constant stream of calls, deleting voicemails, and dutifully filing complaints on the FTC’s “National Do Not Call Registry” website. This NBC News article has a handy form into which you can put your area code to see how many robocalls the average person received per day in September. For me, it was 15. God help the poor folks down in Atlanta, where the number is 68.9 robocalls/day.

2More On “Deep Fake” Videos
Last week I highlighted this article in Scientific American on the growing danger of AI-powered altered video that is increasingly indistinguishable from the real thing. I’m following that up with this well-done video by The Wall Street Journal explaining how the technology works, and the damage it is already inflicting on its victims. The spectre of fabricated video and audio creating evidence of a reality that isn’t real is frightening and a far more serious threat to our ability to function as a civil society than the crude political memes that litter Facebook.

3Is 99% Enough?
One of the ongoing themes of this weekly newsletter has been way Google has been taking a hatchet to its own mission and credibility with its rumored “Project Dragonfly” — the leaked plans to reenter the Chinese search market by acceding to Chinese government censorship requirements.

This week, Google publicly acknowledged the existence of Dragonfly. As it’s CEO explained, “If Google would operate in China, what would it look like? What queries would we be able to serve? It turns out we’d be able to serve well over 99 percent of queries and there are many, many areas where we would provide information better than what’s available.”

Evidently giving up 1% of intellectual freedom to search for things like “human rights” and “student protest” is worth gaining access to China’s estimated 772 million internet users. That’s a lot of ad-revenue omelettes to make from the breaking of 1% of the eggs.

4Archaeology With Frickin’ Lasers
Next month marks the 100th anniversary of the signing of the armistice to end the horror of “The Great War” … which only came to be known as “World War I” once it became clear that it was not, as billed, the “war to end all wars.” Despite the scope of the devastation wrought across the Belgian and French countrysides along the Western Front, time and nature have conspired to hide the scars of war on the earth.

That is, until airplanes armed with LIDAR came along. Now, despite a century’s worth of overgrown trees and plowed over farmland, we can see once again the trenches and shell craters of the first horror of the 20th Century.

Also proof that everything is better with lasers.

5Gene Sequencing, USB Ready
The original project to map the human genome and its 3 billion base pair of DNA took 13 years and cost upwards of $2.7 billion. As with nearly everything related to technology and computing power, the time and cost involved with unlocking DNA code has plummeted to almost nothing. Here’s but one mind-blowing example: the USB thumbdrive-sized minION, which processes DNA in near realtime, requiring no more computing power than a simple laptop and USB 3.0 cable. And at $1,000, it costs less than the laptop. It doesn’t stop there, either: the company — Oxford Nanopore Technologies — is already working on a DNA sequencer that plugs into your iPhone.