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   Non-TechTrends Worth Watching

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From: Julius Wong7/6/2019 8:43:31 PM
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Superhuman is Spying on You

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From: Julius Wong7/7/2019 7:54:45 PM
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These Sweatshirts Are Trash

Textile-technology startup Evrnu and others are spinning discarded clothes into recyclable fabric

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From: Ron7/8/2019 5:29:03 PM
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Burkina Faso is gearing up to fight malaria — with genetically modified mosquitoes

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To: Ron who wrote (2559)7/8/2019 8:18:06 PM
From: Julius Wong
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Dr Abdoulaye Diabate awarded the 2013 Royal Society Pfizer Award

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From: Julius Wong7/8/2019 8:42:31 PM
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The Car Engine of Tomorrow: Cleaner, Lighter, With One Moving Part

Aquarius Engines is developing a super-efficient, 22-pound gasoline engine, as startups, auto makers and researchers reimagine the more than century-old technology

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From: Ron7/11/2019 12:51:36 PM
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Robot Umpires have arrived in Baseball....

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From: Glenn Petersen7/12/2019 10:56:45 AM
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Iconic brands lose their luster

Courtenay Brown
July 11, 2019

From Oscar Mayer and Campbell's to Clairol and CoverGirl, some of America's most famous supermarket and drug store brands are losing market share as consumers' tastes and shopping habits change.

Why it matters: The challenges facing well-loved brands reflect shifts that aren't likely to swing back in their favor. As older companies scramble to keep up with upstart competitors, they are introducing more modern product lines, like ones with plant-based ingredients.

Driving the news: Legacy brands are concentrated within a handful of huge corporations that are losing money on various business lines as their products fade in relevance and popularity.
    -- Kraft Heinz said this year that the value of its Oscar Mayer and Kraft brands — with products like Oscar Mayer hot dogs, Jell-O and Kraft Mac & Cheese — were worth $15 billion less than it had previously stated.

    -- Coty, which purchased the Clairol and CoverGirl brands from Procter & Gamble 3 years ago, recently wrote down the value of those brands by $3 billion, following a previous writedown of $965 million.

    -- Sales of Campbell's namesake soups have fallen in 8 out of the past 10 fiscal years, per the Wall Street Journal.
These companies' "standard prescriptions for defending" their brands "no longer seem to be yielding results," Carol Phillips, founder the Brand Amplitude consulting firm — which counted Campbell Soup as a client — tells Axios.
    -- "The tough thing about these products is they are really hard to improve on," she says.

    -- "About the only thing you can do to it is change the package."
What's happening: Consumers are piling into nouveau and generic brands — like Kylie Jenner's Kylie Cosmetics and Brandless —some of which aren't even sold in physical stores.
    -- Newer brands captured 31% of revenue share growth within the last four years — an increase from 27% in prior years, according to a recent Bain & Co. report.

    -- "The barriers to entry and the cost of launching a new brand have never been lower," the Bain report said

    -- Amazon has hundreds of its own brands across nearly every product category, according to research firm Marketplace Pulse.
Between the lines: The companies that used to set the trends are now the followers. Desperate to remain relevant, old-line companies — already late — often jump into the fad of the moment.

    -- Coty is reportedly in talks to take a stake in Kylie Cosmetics.

    -- General Mills, struggling to lift sales of its cereals, yogurts and snacks, purchased Blue Buffalo, buying into the high-end organic pet food craze.

    -- Conagra, which owns brands like Slim Jim and Hunt's ketchup, bought Pinnacle Foods (the maker of Bird's Eye, Hungry Man, Duncan Hines and others) in an attempt to cash in on demand for convenient frozen food. But months after the purchase, CEO Sean Connolly told the WSJ that Pinnacle's portfolio was “more negative than any of us anticipated it would be."

    -- StarKist is hoping that a deal to feature its tuna fish in Home Chef's meal kits will help re-spark its relevance among consumers, it told the Wall Street Journal.
With plant-based foods so popular these days, a lot of companies are embracing the trend.
    -- Tyson Foods, well known for its chicken nuggets, plans to roll out plant-based nuggets.

    -- Conagra will "tap into the plant-based meat-alternative opportunity," Connolly told analysts last month.

    --Campbell Soup said it would introduce a “plant-based cooking platform."
These strategies are "a total crapshoot," says Robert Passikoff, founder of the consultancy Brand Keys.

The bottom line: What is a setback for the companies that once dominated store shelves is a boon for consumers, who have more options than ever.

    -- “They have more choice and better products," Phillips says. "Finally, choice has proliferated.”

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To: Glenn Petersen who wrote (2563)7/13/2019 10:19:25 AM
From: Glenn Petersen
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A digital breadcrumb trail for deepfakes

Kaveh Waddell
July 12, 2019

Altered image: Lazaro Gamio/Axios

There is a pitched struggle underway between the makers of fake AI-generated videos and images and forensics experts trying desperately to uncover them. And the detectives are losing.

Why it matters: Their effort is the leading edge in a massive scramble to stave off a potential landscape in which it's impossible to know what's true and what isn't.

Experts are developing methods to verify photos and videos at the precise moment they're taken, leaving no room for doubt about their authenticity. This portends a cynical future in which media must leave a detailed digital breadcrumb trail in order to be believed.
    -- Some worry that if authentication becomes the default, people without access to verification technology — or who can't give up sensitive information about their location — will lose out.

    -- One possible outcome: a bifurcated world in which some photos and videos, published by those who can afford the tools and visibility, are accompanied by a green checkmark — but other media languish in obscurity and doubt.
"My concern is that if they actually achieve their end-state goal that they describe, that might work against people who are already marginalized, and might perpetuate data surveillance," says Sam Gregory, a program manager at the human-rights nonprofit WITNESS.

Where it stands: The consensus today is that detecting deepfakes after they've been created is a stopgap — not a permanent solution.
    -- With billions of photos now uploaded to social media every day — and deepfakes becoming increasingly easy to make — catching forgeries needs automated detection tools, which are unlikely to ever catch even the majority of fakes.

    -- "I don't believe forensics can work in the long run," says Pawel Korus, a professor of engineering at NYU. "It was never reliable enough to begin with, and it's starting to break as cameras are doing more and more interesting things."
What's happening: The main alternative is to verify a photo or video at the source, using unique information about the specific camera that's taking it.
    -- The ultimate vision is a universal indicator of veracity to accompany photos and videos on Facebook, YouTube, and other social media.

    -- But in this future, the all-important imprimatur of truth may not be in everyone's reach.

    -- "The people who will be de facto excluded in a system of authentication will be people who are in the Global South, use a jailbroken phone, probably are women, probably are in rural areas," Gregory tells Axios.
Several startups are working on this nascent technology.
    -- TruePic, a venture-backed startup, wants to work with hardware manufacturers — Qualcomm, for now — to log of photos and videos the instant they're captured.

    -- Amber, a small San Francisco startup, sends an encrypted record of photos and videos to a blockchain, so viewers can check if clips were later altered.

    -- Serelay, based in the U.K., saves about 100 phone sensor readings every time you snap a photo — GPS, pressure sensor, gyroscope, etc. — to check its veracity.
What's next: All three companies told Axios that a widespread built-in verification system is still years away. For now, they are working with industries that need to be able to trust incoming videos and photos — TruePic with insurers, Amber with body camera makers, and Serelay with media companies.

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From: Julius Wong7/14/2019 8:46:00 AM
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Fish Rain in Mumbai? Fake WhatsApp Video Going Viral on Social Media

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From: Glenn Petersen7/14/2019 10:21:26 AM
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License Plate Readers Are Creeping Into Neighborhoods Across the Country

Cheap surveillance software is changing how landlords manage their tenants and what laws police can enforce.

By Josh Kaplan
Future Tense via Slate
July 10, 2019

Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by Jon Megna/Unsplash, cherezoff/iStock/Getty Images Plus, and JPLDesigns/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

Clayton Burnett seems like an unlikely candidate to run a cutting-edge surveillance system. He is not an FBI agent, nor does he investigate homicides for the NYPD. Burnett is the director of innovation and new technology at Watchtower Security, a private company that contracts with property managers—hundreds of them—in low-income communities across the U.S. About three years ago, his company started contracting with OpenALPR, a startup whose software lets users track people by their license plates. “The price point was very reasonable for us,” Burnett says, so now Watchtower has more than 475 cameras scattered across its properties—he says they sometimes scan more than 1.5 million license plates in a week. With just a quick search, now Watchtower can see every time someone passed by one of its apartment complexes in the past two months.

Burnett’s company regularly hands over location data to police, he says, as evidence for cases large and small. But that investigative firepower also comes in handy for more routine landlord-tenant affairs. They’ve investigated tree trimmers charging for a day of work they didn’t do and caught people dumping trash on private property. Sometimes, he says, a tenant will claim her car was hit in the building’s parking lot and ask for free rent. His company can search for her plate and see that one day, she left the lot with her bumper intact and then came back later with a dent in it. Probably once a week, Burnett says, Watchtower uses it to prove that a tenant has “a buddy crashing on their couch,” violating their lease. “Normally, there’s some limit to how long they can stay, like five days,” he says, “and we can prove they’re going over that.” One search, and they have proof that that buddy has been coming over every night for a month.

I was wondering how tenants felt about this, and I asked Burnett whether anyone had ever complained about the license plate readers. “No,” he said with a laugh. “I’d say they probably don’t know about it.”

Automatic license plate readers, or ALPRs, have been part of law enforcement’s toolkit for well over a decade. However, the technology has evolved rapidly in the past couple of years, radically changing who is able to access ALPRs and what they’re able to do with them. Startups like OpenALPR (recently acquired by Rekor) and Flock Safety have jumped into the scene. The software now can read much more than license plates. It can detect dents on cars. It can search for specific bumper stickers and for Lyft tags. And while until recently, acquiring ALPRs meant buying custom-built cameras that cost at least $10,000 a pop, OpenALPR is strictly a software company. Its system works with any internet-enabled camera (one user I spoke to purchased “really good” cameras for less than $150 each), and licenses cost less than $100 per device. Matt Hill, founder of OpenALPR, says that one city (he wouldn’t name it) recently purchased 1,000 licenses. The city already had traffic cameras in place, so all it had to do was buy the software.

And as the technology has matured, it’s gotten in the hands of organizations that, five years ago, would never have been able to consider it. Small-town police departments can suddenly afford to conduct surveillance at a massive scale. Neighborhood homeowners associations and property managers are buying up cameras by the dozen. And in many jurisdictions, cheap ALPR cameras are creeping into neighborhoods—with almost nothing restricting how they’re used besides the surveiller’s own discretion.

I talked to about a dozen people who use ALPRs, everywhere from California to Alabama: property managers, small-town police chiefs, and people who’d simply gone Dutch with their neighbors to buy some software. Almost all of them had started using it in the past three years, drawn by its sudden affordability. John Hudson is a contractor working with police in Allegheny County (the area surrounding Pittsburgh), and he says that Allegheny law enforcement first tried out the technology in 2010. Back then, the cameras ran $10,000 a piece. “At that time, we were only able to install a couple cameras,” he says. “We’re not New York. We just don’t have the money to afford that type of technology.” Hudson says no one found the cameras particularly useful at that point.

That changed about 2½ years ago, though, when the Allegheny district attorney decided to buy OpenALPR licenses. Hudson now has almost 400 cameras installed around the region, and he says that’ll probably rise to 500 by the end of 2019. The change in scale has turned ALPR from a neat trick to a game-changing technology. Police use it for everything from DUI cases (was she swerving before we pulled her over?) to kidnappings. Recently, Hudson says, they used license plate readers to “virtually gate” McKeesport, a low-income, 20,000-person town south of Pittsburgh: “Any way you can come in and out, you’re on camera.” The dream behind ALPR has finally come true in Allegheny County: Police can actually track someone as they move around the region. “We used to have it on main corridors used for drug trafficking,” Hudson says. “Now we’re going into neighborhoods.”

ALPRs can change how departments police—they can change the level of crimes that they go after.
Now that ALPRs have proliferated across cities, officers tell me they’ve become a much more effective tool for combating crime. But they also now have far more potential for abuse.
Dave Maass, who has worked closely on ALPRs at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a civil liberties advocacy group, says he is particularly concerned about the sensitive information being swept up by plate readers: “If people saw a cop sitting in front of their church or their oncologist writing down license plates, people would be concerned.”

This is not merely a hypothetical concern. A few years ago, the Associated Press reported that NYPD used ALPRs to scan the plates of worshippers at a mosque. Police in Edmonton, Alberta, admitted to using a confidential police database in 2004 to get the plate number of a local columnist who was sharply critical of police conduct and ordering officers to look out for his car, hoping to catch him at a bar and then arrest him for drunk driving. Maass thinks no one should be able to query an ALPR system without a warrant. “Now a cop can look up your license plate and see where you’ve been for the past two years,” he says. “This may be used to track journalists and find out who their sources are. This may be used to find out who’s going to a protest.”

Police officers have also been caught abusing law enforcement databases for personal reasons, like illegally stalking girlfriends and looking up women they find attractive. When I asked him about this concern, Hudson said they’d had a “complaint” at one point, but he declined to go into details: “Don’t want to share dirty laundry with you.” But he says his department addressed the problem by implementing an auditing system. Now, it proactively monitors what officers search for to ensure that the system’s used only for work purposes.

However, other people have doubts about how effective an audit system can be. Maass says that in California, anyone who uses ALPRs is required to have a policy online, but some agencies have simply put policies on their websites without ever actually implementing the auditing they claim to do. And even when auditing does happen, several employees told me they’re not confident that it works. One officer, who recently left a large sheriff’s department in Minnesota, told me that his department seriously monitored ALPR use and he’d never heard of anyone abusing the system. He wasn’t sure that that meant it hadn’t happened, though. “In our department, there’s probably a 50-50 chance you’d get caught,” he told me. He paused. “Ah, that’s optimistic.”

Even when used properly, ALPRs can change how departments police—they can change the level of crimes that they go after. Garrett Langley, the CEO of Flock Safety, told me that this is one of the technology’s selling points: “Issuing a BOLO [“Be on the lookout”] for a nonviolent crime is just not cost-effective.” If you know that a bald guy in a gray Toyota illegally dumped trash in your lawn, the police won’t try to track him down. But if they have the plate, enforcing lower-level crime becomes much easier. Several of the property managers and homeowners associations I spoke to emphasized that this is one of the main benefits of their ALPR systems. Along with burglaries, they’re mostly concerned about people breaking into cars to steal personal belongings; police wouldn’t investigate that before, but now homeowners associations can do the investigation for them and hand over the evidence. As Burnett put it, “[Police] are not going to be able to investigate [a small crime] unless we hand it to them on a silver platter. Which we’ve done plenty of times.”

As for their own ALPR cameras, some of the law enforcement agencies I talked to were only using the system for felony investigations: “the worst of the worst.” But others used it more expansively. Driving with suspended license. Vandalism. “Immigration violators.” (According to the ACLU, more than 80 local law enforcement agencies share their license plate data with Immigration and Customs Enforcement.)

“[There’s] no scope whatsoever,” the Minnesota officer told me. “We used it whenever it seemed useful.” He’s used ALPRs to investigate “literally everything,” from terrorism to shoplifting to $200 credit card theft. “That said, I’d never investigate $200 credit card theft if it wasn’t linked to a dozen others,” he clarified. But he also says that ALPR makes it much easier to connect petty crimes together. He’s worried that this might exacerbate bias in the judicial system, leading to selective overenforcement. Police may install cameras in a neighborhood to investigate violent crime but then end up catching a disproportionate number of petty crimes in the process. “Even if we had a few cameras in our high-crime neighborhoods, we could solve a ton of crimes,” he said. “But there are a lot of racial and privacy concerns with putting cameras in a specific area.”

Brock Boone, an attorney with the ACLU’s Alabama chapter, thinks this may already be happening in his state. “Anecdotally, it seems to be that these are put up in neighborhoods with people of color,” he says. “We would just need to see the data.” But he says that he and his colleagues just haven’t had the capacity to seriously look into how Alabama police use the technology, let alone push for reforms. “There are huge privacy implications of this data collection,” Boone says. But “we just don’t have the resources that the ACLUs in New York or California have, or even Michigan.”

As automatic license plate readers proliferate in smaller towns and redder states, there are not always organizations in place ready to push back against them. And this means that police and property managers are left to regulate themselves. Sara Rose is an attorney for the Pennsylvania ACLU in Allegheny County, and she’s been involved in a bill that would provide some basic restrictions on ALPR in her state (although not nearly enough, in her opinion). I asked her if she was aware of the “complaint” about misconduct that Hudson had mentioned to me. She hadn’t been. “But I think it shows the need for government entities to put policies in place to prevent misuse of this technology before they start using it rather than after the fact,” she told me. “We’re just missing very basic limits on what police can do with this.”

And for insurance companies and nosy neighbors, those limitations are almost nonexistent. Valerie is part of a homeowners association in West Los Angeles that began considering ALPRs after a series of break-ins in the area. “Mostly just into cars,” she says. “Break the windows and steal sunglasses or whatever.” She and her neighbors considered other options first, like hiring a private patrol car for the neighborhood, but that seemed too expensive. So a few weeks ago, her block joined together to buy two Flock Safety cameras—enough to see every time a car entered or left their street. They split the cost, so she says each house only has to pay about $130 a year, and two of her neighbors volunteered to monitor the system. There was one holdout, however. “One neighbor thought it was a violation of his privacy,” she told me. I asked her if she thought he’d ever come around to it. “No,” she responded. “We just leave him alone.”

Future Tense is a partnership of Slate, New America, and Arizona State University that examines emerging technologies, public policy, and society.

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