Saturday, 31 December 2016

The Most Terrifying Weapons of 2016

It’s been a rough year, and while this is Motherboard and we like to provide our readers with factual, analytical content, it’s worth noting that the world is getting some really scary and pretty insane new ways to kill that have been developed and tested in 2016. Here are some of the scariest.


China’s VLRAAM


In November, the Chinese military pushed the boundaries of air-to-air missile technology by test firing a brand new hypersonic missile, with reports of the atmospheric lance having a range of more than 300 miles.

The missile, spotted on the wing of a Chinese J-16 fighter, is estimated to be almost 20 feet long, and belongs in a missile category dubbed VLRAAM (very long range air-to-air missile).

As Popular Science noted, the missile has a longer range than any current US or NATO air to air missiles, and with speeds clocking Mach 6, this “aerial artillery” would be difficult to escape. Launched at altitudes of 40,000 feet or higher, a powerful rocket engine propels the missile up to heights approaching 100,000 feet, where it encounters less air resistance and reaches its dizzying speeds. The test firing was a success, according to scant, approved press leaks from China, and a drone was destroyed at long range over Chinese airspace.



Image: NASA

The US Air Force’s ever-so-top-secret X-37B, or in Motherboard’s terms ‘scary space drone’, launched for its fourth mission on top of an Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral on May 20 2015. The mission is designated OTV-4, and the X-37B is still to this day orbiting the Earth testing a type of ion-based propulsion engines called Hall thrusters, as well as carrying out long-term spaceflight tests for NASA.

Aside from these tests though, there’s not much information about some alleged ‘other’ secret experiments that might be happening on the uncrewed space vehicle, which is now hundreds of days past OTV-4’s initial 200 day length. Some suggest it’s a cutting-edge spy satellite, while others purport the Boeing X-37’s real mission is to test bombing from space. Whatever it’s really doing up there, you can track it right from here.



Image: Sputnik/Vladimir Fedorenko

Depending on where you read it, Russia’s new SATAN 2 nuclear missile can wipe out Texas, France, or Great Britain. I suppose it doesn’t really matter exactly what it can wipe out though because if this terror ever gets launched we’ll all be dead anyway in the ensuing global thermonuclear retaliation. Cheery, huh!?

The SATAN 2, officially called the RS-28 Sarmat (SATAN is its NATO namesake) is a Russian super-heavy intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) equipped with a thermonuclear warhead. Development began back in 2009, but in August of this year, Russia conducted a successful test of the SATAN’s first-stage motor, subsequently declassifying an image of the missile.

The weapon has a reported range of just over 6,000 miles, and can deliver a payload of 10,000kg at speeds approaching Mach 7. Speaking at a press conference in 2014, Russia’s General Colonel Yesin said the ICBM gives Russia the opportunity to “deliver warheads and strikes from different directions including shipping units via the South Pole.” Excellent.


WATCH: Russia showcases cutting-edge high-mobile self-propelled Sputnik September 10, 2016

Sometimes you just need to take technology back to basics. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, so the saying goes. Which is presumably why Russian military unveiled a giant gun on the back of a truck this September, called Phlox.

Shown off at the annual Army forum in Russia, the Phlox is essentially a 120mm howitzer cannon mounted onto a Ural-4320 armored wagon. It’s specifically for taking down moving and stationery targets with high-explosive shells, according to Russian news service Sputnik. “We managed to install a powerful gun on wheels," designer Denis Kirishev told Sputnik.

The medieval war machine can carry up to 80 rounds, and the turret can rotate through 360 degree. There’s also a bonus 12.7mm machine gun mounted on top of the truck, presumably to pick off any close-ranging infantry. The Phlox will likely see trials soon in Russia’s new proving grounds of the Crimea and Syria.


Yes, indeed, the Big [REDACTED] Gun. One of the best video game weapons ever made a comforting return this year with the release of Doom (2016).

“The first person shooter’s first and best super weapon,” Motherboard’s Emanuel Maiberg said. “Press nine and click to make all your problems go away.”

It’s true. I spent many hours literally shitting myself through the original Doom as a seven-year-old lusting after the BFG, knowing it could help make all my problems disappear back to hell with a click of my finger. To see it make a comeback in 2016 was a pure joy. In the original Doom, the BFG9000 shot huge globules of green plasma that had were one-shot kill ANY adversary, pretty much. It’s also super useful for wiping out groups of monsters as plasma energy arcs off the main shot. Rest assured, the world would be a disaster if such a handheld gun existed in real life.

Get six of our favorite Motherboard stories every day by signing up for our newsletter.

from The Most Terrifying Weapons of 2016

A Scientific Explanation for Why Everyone Hates New Year’s Eve

Image: Pixabay

The countdown is on for one of the year’s most hated holidays: New Year’s Eve.

For a celebration that mostly involves drinking champagne and wearing sequins, lots of people have some really strong opinions about New Year’s Eve. Comedian John Oliver once compared the evening to the death of a pet: “You know it’s going to happen but somehow you’re never really prepared for how truly awful it is.”

It turns out there’s actually a scientific explanation for why so many people aren’t fans of the holiday, and understanding it can help us have a better time ringing in the new year. And a lot of it has to do with managing expectations.

“Expectations are just as important as what actually happens to us,” said Robb Rutledge, a senior research associate at University College London who studies decision making and happiness. “In general, our happiness doesn’t increase unless something exceeds our expectations.”

This is a well-worn adage—happiness is reality minus expectations—but it’s bolstered by research, including a study Rutledge led published in 2014. Rutledge and his team had a small group of people play a decision making game where they’d win points or money, and measured their happiness moment-to-moment through survey questions and MRI brain scans.

They found that a person’s expectation of the results of their decision—like, “if I choose this option, I’ll win more money”—had a greater impact on their happiness than what actually happened to them (winning money or not). They were able to accurately predict people’s happiness by making a mathematical equation that matched this expectation-reality exchange.

Basically, when reality meets our expectations, our happiness doesn’t increase. If it surpasses our expectations, our happiness grows, and if it’s below our expectations? That’s when we find disappointment.

“Our brains aren’t really there to make us happy or feel good,” Rutledge explained. “What’s useful for you for survival is making good decisions and learning about your environment. Those are the things human brains have been trying to do for hundreds of thousands of years, and happiness can be useful in that but it’s not the goal.”

This is true of all kinds of situations in modern life, but New Year’s Eve seems to be an especially common date when one’s reality doesn’t meet one’s expectations. A 1999 study demonstrated that the higher someone’s expectations were for their New Year’s Eve plans, the more likely they were to be disappointed after the fact.

Rutledge told me there are a few reasons why New Year’s so often ends up disappointing. For one, it’s the kind of holiday that everyone is celebrating, which means if you do want to go out, you probably have to make plans of some kind. This might mean choosing which party to go to, or buying tickets to an event, or booking a hotel room. All of this planning makes us, naturally, start to set up some expectations.

Rutledge has also found evidence that other people’s experiences can impact our moment-to-moment happiness and on New Year’s, everyone is celebrating at the same time. These days, they’re probably also posting on social media—the constant comparison to other people’s seemingly-magical evenings could impact how happy we are with our own.

So what’s the solution? Should you just tell yourself New Year’s Eve is going to be a dumpster fire, and then anything above that will seem like a win?

“No, no, no, that is a common response to this slightly depressing news, but it’s more that people should have realistic expectations,” Rutledge said. “Make plans but realize that not everything goes perfectly, and then just see what happens.”

It can be hard to fight against our natural instincts to plan and predict, but if you tend to be less than thrilled with your New Year’s Eve celebrations, try keeping this in mind this year as you make plans. Considering we’re bidding adieu to what is arguable one of the worst years ever, whatever you end up doing, it should be a Happy New Year.

from A Scientific Explanation for Why Everyone Hates New Year’s Eve

The Top 10 Scientific Discoveries that Renewed Our Faith in Humanity This Year

On each of the three NASA Mars rovers, there’s a tiny inscription written on the sun dial. It details the mission and what us mere Earthlings hoped to achieve by sending our robots to the planet next door. The last line reads: “To those who visit here, we wish a safe journey and the joy of discovery."

The joy of discovery. Isn’t that lovely?

I never knew this about the rovers until I heard it from Bill Nye (who helped design the sundials on which the inscription is written) when I heard him speak at SXSW Eco this year. Nye told the audience that it brings him hope to think of an astronaut one day reading that message on Mars. “She or he will walk up to this thing and feel that joy of discovery,” Nye said. “That’s what science is all about: the joy of discovery.”

Bill Nye spreading the joy. Image: Steve Rogers/SXSW Eco

It’s been, to say the least, a bit of a rough year here on Earth. But among all the turmoil, there has been some joy, in particular the joy of discovery. Humanity has continued to march forward and seek out answers to the mysteries of the universe, gaining understanding that will only draw us closer together.

When big discoveries are made in science, it reminds me that, as a species, we can do good. We’re curious and intelligent and make amazing discoveries that fascinate and thrill us—and we value science to make those discoveries happen. It warms my cold, black heart.

If you’re feeling the need to be reminded of some of 2016’s redeeming factors, here are 10 of our favorite, most “faith in humanity restored” scientific discoveries that happened this year, in no particular order:

Gravitational waves detected for the first time

Gravitational waves, very simply, are ripples in gravitational fields caused by the movement of cosmic bodies, like black holes. Though Albert Einstein predicted they existed, even he wasn’t convinced we’d ever be able to detect their existence. It may have taken us 100 years since that prediction, but we did it.

Researchers at the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory in Louisiana and Washington detected the gravitational waves caused by two black holes colliding earlier this year, marking a new era in how we can observe our universe. It proves the ability to not only look out at the stars around us, but also listen and detect things we would never be able to see.

The Earth-like planet next door

A short 4.2 light years from our solar system lies Proxima Centauri, our sun’s closest star. And orbiting that star, we learned this year, is an Earth-sized planet within the habitable zone—not to close and not too far from the star. The size, and position, of this rocky planet means it has the potential to have liquid water, which we consider a necessity for life beyond our own planet. This discovery took more than a decade of work, and though there have been many potentially habitable, Earth-like planets discovered, finding one so close to home is thrilling. It opens up the possibility for all kinds of discovery we may not have found possibly, including sending a probe to Proxima Centauri to check out this planet up close.

An artist's imagining of the planet orbiting Proxima Centauri. Image: WikiMedia Commons

New critters of all shapes and sizes

Despite the fact that we’ve been documenting the planet’s species for centuries, some studies predict more than 80 percent of the world’s organisms are still undiscovered. But the good news is that we are constantly discovering previously unknown species, and 2016 was no exception. From the “ghost-like” octopus discovered on the ocean floor, to the leaf-mimicking spider documented for the first time, to this bizarre millipede with some extra, uh, appendages. The world is full of magical creatures just waiting to be discovered.

Fighting Zika with science

The start of this year brought the realization that the previously little-known Zika virus could cause a rare birth defect known as microcephaly. Panic set in as the virus quickly spread throughout Latin America and the southern US. But in the face of this fear, scientists step up, quickly developing interventions that ranged from a vaccine, to a treatment for pregnant mothers, to genetically-modified, self-destructing mosquitoes. Though we don’t have a slam dunk solution, medical researchers advanced our understanding of this virus, its effects, and how to protect our babies tenfold over the past year, demonstrating the incredible things we can achieve when we put all our scientific effort into it.

Giving paralyzed monkeys back on their feet

Giving paraplegics the opportunity to walk again has been a dream of medical researchers for decades, and there have been a number of innovative advancements in this area. But this year brought some exciting new progress as Swiss researchers used brain chips to successful give paralyzed monkeys the ability to walk again. Animal studies are stepping stone, and don’t necessarily mean this technology would be effective for humans, but it was a fantastic example of how technology and science can converge to help solve puzzles like this one.

The world’s oldest fossil ever

Sometimes new discoveries are of very old things, that teach us some very cool new information. Take the discovery of a 3.7 billion-year-old fossil uncovered in Greenland this year, which surpassed the previous record-holder: a 3.5 billion-year-old fossil in Australia. This ancient snapshot gives us a look at our planet’s earliest glimmers of life, showing that even on an Earth that was, at that time, still formative and bombarded with asteroids. But life still managed to stake out a foothold, showing that life really does find a way.

The origins of life traced to a single molecule

Speaking of what we can learn from new discoveries of very old things, this year brought the incredible discovery of a single molecule that allowed the first transition from single-celled to multicellular life on Earth. The molecule, called GK-PID, is necessary for multicellular creatures (like, ahem, us) on Earth to develop and researchers found that an ancient genetic flip in this molecule is what launched the whole thing in action, reminding us all how incredible it is that we even exist.

Understanding water bears

Tardigrades, sometimes called “water bears” or “moss piglets,” are tiny micro-animals that have fascinated scientists with their uncanny tenacity. They can survive in some of the harshest environments, including outer space, and this year we started to gain a better understanding as to how. Researchers have been learning lots about these critters by sequencing their genome, including discovering a protein that protects tardigrade DNA from radiation. If we can unravel the mystery of tardigrades’ hardiness, we might even be able to harness some of it to help humans.

A tardigrade being cute. Image: NPG Press/YouTube

A baby with three parents

Though babies with “three parents” have been born before, this year marked the first time a procedure known as a mitochondrial transfer was successfully performed. Previous “three parent” babies had small traces of DNA from the donor who supplied cytoplasm—the “goo” the holds the nucleus and the mitochondria together in a cell—to the parent couple. But this child will was conceived using a donor’s mitochondrial DNA, a much more significant leap. Though controversial, the procedure could mean new hope for parents unable to conceive for a variety of genetic complications.

The panda is no longer endangered

I’ve written before about how the myth that pandas aren’t “worth saving” misunderstands the species and conservation. So I was cheering earlier this year when the International Union for the Conservation of Nature upgraded the giant panda’s status from endangered to threatened, the result of decades of international conservation efforts. It doesn’t mean the work is over, but I’ve said before that if we can’t save pandas, we can’t save anything, so this is a very promising step.

from The Top 10 Scientific Discoveries that Renewed Our Faith in Humanity This Year

From Planet Nine to Proxima b, 2016 Was a Wild Year for Space

2016 has earned notoriety as a relentlessly unpredictable year marked by the passing of many beloved icons, including David Bowie and Muhammad Ali. The space community was not exempt from this trend; we were forced to bid farewell to several influential luminaries, including Apollo 14 astronaut Edgar Mitchell and Mercury Seven pioneer John Glenn.

But the past 12 months were also packed with astronomical discoveries and spaceflight victories, many of which will yield more exciting research in years to come. There’s much to mourn, no doubt, but also plenty to celebrate in our roundup of the year’s biggest stories from outer space, from the birth of a new field of astronomy to the death of a lonely comet orbiter.

10. Moon Express Cleared for a Lunar Landing

In August, the American spaceflight company Moon Express became the first private entity to receive permission to land on the Moon. Having secured this historic greenlight from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the company is aiming to send a lander to the lunar surface sometime in 2017, with the long-term goal of extracting resources from the Moon and other celestial bodies. Off-Earth mining has been talked about for years, but in 2016, it took a major step towards reality.

9. The Return of the One Year Crew

On March 2, American astronaut Scott Kelly and Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko arrived safely back on Earth after 340 days on the International Space Station (ISS). Dubbed the One Year Crew, Kelly and Kornienko jointly broke the record for the longest single spaceflight on the ISS (though Mir cosmonaut Valeri Polyakov still holds the top spot on the all-time high score with 437 days). The yearlong mission included nearly 400 experiments geared towards understanding the effects of long duration spaceflight on the human body.

Kelly and Kornienko pose for a milestone portrait. Image: NASA

The success of the One Year Crew was not the only cause for celebration on the ISS. The station also received its first expandable module, the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM), and astronaut Kate Rubins successfully sequenced DNA for the first time in space.

8. The Age of Reusable Rockets Is Nigh

For the majority of spaceflight history, rockets have been one-way vehicles. After delivering their payloads to orbit, boosters normally deorbit and burn up in the atmosphere.

Expendable launch systems are wasteful of time, money, and resources, not to mention they contribute to space debris. For private spaceflight companies SpaceX and Blue Origin, the answer is to build reusable rocket stages that can travel to space, then circle back to the launchpad for a new trip. Executing such a maneuver is a daunting task, but at the tail-end of 2015, both companies pulled off test landings of rocket stages for the first time. (Blue Origin is wants to corner the market on suborbital flights for tourists, while SpaceX is chasing the trickier goal of reusable orbital rockets).

If 2015 was the hallmark for demonstrating that rocket landings are possible, 2016 marks when they started to become commonplace, with SpaceX nailing several landings on floating drone ships (despite some explosive missteps here and there) and Blue Origin continuing to practice on land. Welcome to the era of round-trip rocketry.

7. Mars Fever

Human exploration of Mars has been speculated about for centuries, but it became a particularly hot topic in late September 2016, when Elon Musk outlined his plan for an Interplanetary Transport System that could ferry hundreds of passengers to and from Mars, and eventually, other locations in the solar system.

President Barack Obama shared Musk’s optimism in a CNN op-ed on October 11, calling for America to take “the next giant leap” in spaceflight by sending humans to Mars by the 2030s. But though there is no lack of volunteers willing to journey to the Red Planet, it remains to be seen whether these new goals will actually materialize into crewed missions within that timeframe.

6. Juno, Meet Jupiter

Image: NASA/Alex Mai

After five years of interplanetary travel, NASA’s Juno spacecraft finally arrived at Jupiter in the twilight hours of Independence Day, scooting itself into an elliptical polar orbit around the gas giant. In the months since, the orbiter has been busy calibrating its instruments and snapping gorgeous images, including the above shot of the planet’s sunlit side. Juno is projected to study the enormous world until February 2018, when it will throw itself into Jupiter’s gassy embrace and perish.

5. Pack Your Bags for Proxima b

We’re lucky enough to live in an era when thousands of exoplanets (planets outside the solar system) have been catalogued. Still, the discovery of Proxima b, an Earth-scale world orbiting Proxima Centauri—the closest star to the Sun—was something special.

For starters, it’s cool to know that there is a tantalizing planet around the same scale as Earth hanging out only 4.2 light years away, which is a stone’s throw in cosmic terms. But the timing was also perfect, considering it came just a few months after celebrated physicist Stephen Hawking and billionaire entrepreneur Yuri Milner announced the Breakthrough Starshot initiative—a concept mission for traveling to the Alpha/Proxima Centauri system. Interstellar synergy at its finest.

4. Planet Nine (From Outer Space)

There has been much controversy over Pluto’s official demotion as the solar system’s ninth planet to a mere dwarf world of the Kuiper belt. But there’s some kind of beautiful cosmic justice to the fact that astronomer Mike Brown, who led the charge to recategorize Pluto, has amassed compelling evidence that the solar system actually does have a ninth planet.

In January, Brown and his team published research that identified small objects in the outer solar system that are being gravitationally tugged by this hypothetical Neptune-sized planet with an orbit hundreds of times more distant than the one between Earth and the Sun. While astronomers haven’t snagged a visual of this far-flung world yet, Brown expects it to be officially imaged in 2017. “I think that there'll be enough people looking for it that [...] somebody's actually going to track this down,” he said in October, according to

3. ExoMars Successes and Failures

The ExoMars 2016 spacecraft, a joint mission between the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Russian space agency Roscosmos, launched from Kazakhstan in March and arrived at Mars on October 19. Though the Trace Gas Orbiter successfully inserted itself into Mars orbit, the Schiaparelli landing module was destroyed after an explosive impact with the Martian surface, caused by a software glitch.

Naturally, it was a disappointing outcome for the ExoMars team, but mission leads have emphasized that the orbiter is the more important and expensive component, and it is operating perfectly.

2. RIP Rosetta

The Schiaparelli lander wasn’t the only European spacecraft to fatally impact with its host world this year. The ESA Rosetta spacecraft, which had been orbiting comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko since November 2014, deliberately crashed into the comet’s surface on September 30, ending its historic mission on a high note.

READ MORE: Over Four Million People Livestreamed the Rosetta Orbiter’s Death

It was a heartfelt goodbye to one of Europe’s most ambitious spaceflight endeavors, which succeeded in landing a probe on a comet for the first time. The finale was made all the more retrospectively bittersweet by the subsequent passing of Ukrainian astronomer Klim Churyumov, the co-discoverer of the comet and its partial namesake, on October 16. So farewell to Rosetta, and all who made the mission possible.

1. First Detection of Gravitational Waves

As evidenced by this roundup, 2016 was filled with juicy space stories. But despite all that competition, we reserved the top spot for the birth of an entire new field of science—gravitational-wave astronomy.

First predicted by Albert Einstein in 1916, gravitational waves are ripples in the fabric of spacetime, created by extreme cosmic events like the collision of black holes. Because these waves are extremely subtle, Einstein and many other experts doubted that human-made instruments would ever be precise enough to pick them up.

But on February 11, the visionaries of the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) achieved this lofty and much-anticipated goal. Capable of detecting oscillations that are 1,000 times smaller than the width of a proton, LIGO picked up an ancient tremor created by two black holes that merged 1.3 billion years ago.

“This detection is the beginning of a new era,” said Louisiana State University physicist Gabriela González, a LIGO collaborator, in a statement. “The field of gravitational wave astronomy is now a reality.”

2016 was a ruthless year in a lot of ways, but the LIGO achievement—along with much of this roundup—shows it also had plenty of room left over for feats of wonder and curiosity. Here’s to continuing with that spirit in 2017.

Get six of our favorite Motherboard stories every day by signing up for our newsletter.

from From Planet Nine to Proxima b, 2016 Was a Wild Year for Space

The 11 Stupidest Patents of 2016

Last year, the US Patent and Trademark Office saw nearly 630,000 patent applications come through its doors, roughly half of which were granted a patent. Some of these patents were pretty incredible, such as Amazon’s patent for 3D printing products on demand or this “solar powered space weapon.” Unfortunately, for every patent filed for a game changing technology, several others are filed for utterly mundane inventions whose sole purpose is to be used as ‘Exhibit A’ in patent infringement lawsuits.

This practice, known as patent trolling, is a huge systemic problem in the United States which is getting worse every year. A full two-thirds of all patent lawsuits filed in the US are filed by patent trolls, who stockpile stupid patents so that they can extort money from other inventors in court for violating their patent, even though the patent troll never had any intention of actually putting their patent to use.

Ultimately, patent trolls are a bane to innovation, which is why a number of Silicon Valley giants like Google have put pressure on Congress to do something to stem the rising tide of patent trolling in the US. So far, congressional attempts to reform the US patent system have failed and some of these tech companies have taken matters into their own hands through events like the Patent Purchase Promotion, which saw Google buy tons of patents relevant to the company.

While Silicon Valley keeps waging its war against the patent trolls that are costing some companies millions of dollars a year, the Electronic Frontier Foundation has taken a more humorous approach to the problem. In 2014, the EFF created its ‘Stupid Patent of the Month,’ a prestigious monthly award bestowed upon patent trolls who have the unique privilege of inventing really dumb stuff. While it seemed like it was going to be difficult to top last year’s bevy of stupid ideas, 2016 has not been a disappointment.

So without further ado, here are the dumbest inventions of 2016:

JANUARY: A digital library card

Image: European University Institute/Flickr

Xerox kicked off 2016 in style when their invention for a “Social Network for Enabling the Physical Sharing of Documents” was awarded a patent on January 19. This patent describes systems which “enable the sharing of documents among people working in proximate locations, while still promoting worker efficiency and independence.” Moreover, this system would function as a social networking platform for specific organizations that would allow members of that organization operating in the same space to know what documents their peers are reading and which documents those peers are willing to provide a physical copy of.

As the EFF points out in their write up of this stupid patent, the language that describes the invention only serves to make its real purpose all but unintelligible to those who aren’t versed in legal “patent-speak.” For example, when Claim 11 of Xerox’s patent is re-written in plain English, it turns out that what Xerox is trying to patent is essentially a library’s circulation card, which notes who checked out a book at the library and how long that book will be borrowed for. In other words, the USPTO “just gave Xerox a patent on what amounts to sharing a book, but electronically.”

FEBRUARY: Personalized Computer Marketing

February’s stupid patent award goes to Patent No. 8,738,435, for a “Method and apparatus for presenting personalized content relating to offered products and services.” That’s right—a patent for digitally sending a personalized marketing message. As the EFF notes, this patent is written in highly abstract language, describing its apparatus as comprised of “a computer-accessible storage medium” that uses “identifying content to distinguish each person from other persons.”

According to the EFF, this patent should be invalid due to a 2014 Supreme Court case which decided that abstract ideas implemented on a regular computer can’t be granted patents.

Nevertheless, this patent and others in its family (groups of patents that have the same application) have been used by an Arizona-based company called Phoenix Licensing to file dozens of lawsuits against companies since the original patent application in 1996 (it wasn’t granted a patent until 2013). The reason that the EFF chose this patent this month was because Phoenix Licensing had used this patent family to sue “at least a dozen” companies (ranging from CVS to Credo Mobile) in February alone.

MARCH: Managing a crew using a computer

This month’s stupid patent goes to the “Mobile Crew Management System for Distributing Work Order Assignments to Mobile Field Crew Units.” It was awarded to a company called Intellectual Ventures, an infamous patent troll that has been at the heart of a number of high profile patent lawsuits. In essence, this patent assigns tasks to a crew of workers in the field using a computer. To demonstrate what this would be like, the EFF offers a short dialogue:

DISPATCHER: Hey, is your crew available?


DISPATCHER: We need you to head over to Jimmie’s place and fix his problem.

ROSIE: Okay.

DISPATCHER: This is Rosie, right?


DISPATCHER: Great. This job has been assigned to you.

So that, but using a computer.

APRIL: Voice2Text

April saw a shadow company known as Voice2Text file two lawsuits against well-known voice over internet protocol (VoIP) service providers, and Vitelity. Voice2Text has no web presence of any other information about their company online, but they do own US Patent No. 8,914,003 for an invention that converts a voicemail into a text message.

Although the patent itself is full of the legalese that is typical of patent filings, it doesn’t actually say how the “module” that converts audio to text actually works. In other words, “it’s merely a patent on the system for sending a voicemail as an email and a text message…one of the most obvious things you’d want to do with a speech recognition system.” Aside from not actually describing the thing it is patenting, the EFF points out another problem with this patent: it isn’t actually a new invention. US law denies patents to inventions that already existed or would be obvious to someone in the relevant field, and Voice2Text qualifies for both of these. The company’s patent was granted in 2006, but the EFF found two products from 2005 and 2001 that essentially do the exact same thing.

MAY: My Health®

May’s stupid patent belongs to a company called My Health, which invented a “method and system for monitoring and treating a patient.” In essence, this method involves assessing data about a remote patient’s condition, updating the patient’s treatment plan based on this new data, and then “generating and providing compliance data” based on the treatment plan.

As EFF notes, this patent is essentially a rehashing of Telehealth, the umbrella term for telecommunications technologies that are related to health-services. Moreover, the method described is so banal that even Star Trek had managed to come up with the invention years before My Health. The stupidity of this patent is pretty astounding, but then again, maybe it should’ve been expected from a company that holds a trademark for the term “my health” (which according to the company means it is “the only person or entity entitled to use... ‘My Health’ in commerce).

Either way, My Health has sued other companies for patent infringement on several occasions, prompting reviews into the patent’s validity that were inconclusive after the lawsuits between the parties were settled. The company also sued General Electric for trademark infringement last year, which GE contested but was unable to overturn the trademark before settlement.

JUNE: Storage cabinets on a computer

Image: Google Patents

This month’s stupid patent is my personal favorite: “virtual cabinets” that are used to store and organize data on your computer. You may think I’m joking, but I’m not—in fact, the company that owns the patent is suing pretty much anyone who runs a website for infringement, including companies like AirBnb and Zillow.

In essence, the patent troll behind these virtual cabinets is claiming to have invented virtual machines and system partitions, the operating folder otherwise known as the system root. It invented neither of these things, despite the fact that its virtual cabinet is basically just a bad version of these computing structures that have been around for decades.

JULY: Passwords

Image: EFF

This month’s stupid patent belongs to Solocron Education, a company which invented a “verification system for non-traditional learning operations.” In other words, Solocron Education apparently invented passwords, and the USPTO agreed.

In short, the Solocron patent outlines a system whereby students are provided educational materials online and must periodically confirm their identity by entering a password or providing biographical details. According to the EFF, the only reason that this password slipped through the approval process is because it used 119 words to describe a mundane, pre-existing process. Such “overly verbose” language is often used to trick the USPTO into granting patents that should never have been approved.

AUGUST: Academic peer review

If you’ve ever had to do research for school or work, chances are you’ve come across Elsevier, a massive academic publisher hosting its publications online. Elsevier has drawn a lot of flak from academics recently for being a poor steward of academic publications, and now it is behind August’s stupid patent for an “online peer review and method.”

As the name of the invention might suggest, Elsevier has created a way to peer review academic publications by using a computer. In short, it is a patent on a “waterfall process” which allows authors whose articles have been rejected from one journal to immediately submit that same article to a different publication. The only problem is this technique, known more widely as “cascading review” has been around since 2009.

Elsevier’s patent was rejected three times by the USPTO, but by increasingly narrowing the scope of its patent claims while taking advantage of the fact that you can resubmit a patent to the USPTO an unlimited number of times, the publisher was eventually able to force its no good, very stupid patent through to approval.

SEPTEMBER: Rectangles on a screen

Issued on September 27, this patent is for a “display screen portion with graphical user interface,” which has “ornamental design for a display screen portion.” Sounds pretty fancy, but what the patent is actually talking about is a bunch of rectangles on a computer screen. More specifically, three rectangles with a square underneath. I’m not joking—the patent looks like this:

Screengrab: EFF

OCTOBER: Changing the channel

Image: Dwamnman/YouTube

October’s patent is for “Video input switching and signal processing apparatus,” filed by a well-known patent troll called Bartonfalls, LLC. The patent itself is pretty short, just two pages, and describes a way of changing the channel. More specifically, channels that are coming from different inputs, such as a cable channel and a free-to-air broadcast. Even more strange, this patent is oriented toward technologies that you’d be likely to find on a 90s television set (like VCRs and satellite tuners). It doesn’t even mention the internet, but the patent troll has sued the New York Times on the basis of how the newspaper provides its online video content for allegedly violating the claims of this patent.

NOVEMBER: Movies from the cloud

To end 2016 in good style, the EFF saved one of the stupidest patents for last. Titled ‘system and method for storing broadcast content in a cloud-based computing environment,’ this patent is essentially Netflix or Amazon video, but a decade too late. The company behind this patent might’ve been expected to invent something so stupid, based on the fact that last year the EFF awarded them another stupid patent for an internet-connected blender, several years after internet-connected blenders had become a thing.

This ‘movies from the cloud’ patent hardly even makes an effort to distinguish itself from other cloud-based media services like Netflix, Hulu or Amazon Video. In fact, it’s not really clear how this patent was approved at all, considering that it merely repurposes existing technology for an obvious use.

from The 11 Stupidest Patents of 2016

Colony: City-building after the nanotech apocalypse

Some perspective on our place in the Universe from the high Chilean desert


The best observatory in the world is arguably divided among three sites in northern Chile—La Silla, Paranal, and Chajnantor. Each location in the high, arid Atacama desert offers excellent dark and clear skies for the European Southern Observatory's suite of telescopes. At 2,635 meters in elevation Paranal boasts the best instruments, with four 8.2-meter telescopes combining to make up the Very Large Telescope.

Now more than 50 years old, the observatory has played a principal or significant role in a number of major astronomical landmarks, including the discovery of dark energy, finding Proxima b around Proxima Centauri, the observation of stars orbiting the Milky Way Galaxy, and much more.

Read 2 remaining paragraphs | Comments

from Some perspective on our place in the Universe from the high Chilean desert

Friday, 30 December 2016

As Literal Nazis Abuse Twitter, CEO Asks How to Improve the Platform

Technology’s latest thought exercise comes from none other than Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, who tweeted this summons for constructive criticism yesterday:

Following in the footsteps of Brian Chesky: what

jack December 29, 2016

Dorsey was apparently inspired by a similar tweet sent by Airbnb co-founder and CEO Brian Chesky earlier this week. And while the Twitter co-founder and top exec has done things like this before, yesterday’s request felt especially loaded, considering the company’s rough year dealing with harassment outbreaks, and targeted abuse by white supremacist groups and literal Nazis.

People responding to Dorsey’s tweet posed a variety of suggestions, but many asked him to improve Twitter’s current status quo for handling harassment. The company recently took baby-steps in this regard; pushing new features like a quality filter and better muting capabilities. But Twitter has yet to uniformly enforce broad-sweeping action against hate-speech or the spread of private information.

Several people offered Dorsey specific ideas for how he could make Twitter a safer, less hostile place—such as locked hashtags that make it easier to ban abusive users, a point system, or removing one’s handle entirely from conversation threads—but Dorsey refused to say much more than the equivalent of “we’re working on it.”

I asked Twitter for more information regarding Dorsey’s decision to solicit advice from the public, and a spokesperson for the company said they had no comment beyond the CEO’s tweets. The company also declined to comment on why Dorsey was acknowledging some topics but not others.

For the most part, Dorsey seemed excited to address criticisms about Twitter’s user experience. Requests for tools like bookmarking, list organization, topic searching, and tweet threading were met with optimistic replies. Dorsey said he’s “thinking a lot” about tweet editing.

But other requests, especially those dealing with harassment, abuse reports, and transparency were either ignored, or seemingly dismissed as things on an eventual to-do list.

If you’ve ever submitted an abuse report on Twitter, you’ll know the process is often performative. One of the most visible complaints regarding harassment is how infrequently action is taken when a single, regular user files an abuse report. Sometimes, Twitter’s vetting processes can’t even identify blatant hate-speech.

Lmao a story in 4 parts jay caspian kang December 29, 2016

Earlier this year, BuzzFeed News conducted an informal survey of 2,700 Twitter users, and found that 29 percent of people reported receiving no response from Twitter after submitting an abuse report. Approximately 18 percent were reportedly told the abusive content they had flagged was actually allowed, according to Twitter’s own guidelines.

What’s perhaps more frustrating than inaction, however, is that users aren’t privy to information that explains how their report was handled internally by Twitter. For example, we still have no idea who looks at abuse reports, how many are processed each day, and what criteria staff use to determine whether something qualifies as harassment.

More transparency from the company could reveal why hate-speech is often (anecdotally) permitted by Twitter’s anti-harassment protocols. What’s the diversity breakdown of Twitter’s community management team? How are they trained to identify abuse? And how does this vary regionally?

Dorsey’s behavior after asking for improvements mirrors Twitter’s overall approach to dealing with its abuse problem: Yes, it’s a “top priority,” and yes, they’re currently working on it. But it’s complicated, and for the time being, we’ll have to patiently wait.

Only, we know the company can do something about harassment on its platform—and right now. High-profile users have been known to receive immediate treatment if they complain to Dorsey directly. When the actress Leslie Jones was repeatedly attacked on Twitter in June, her experience resulted in the near-immediate suspension of Breitbart editor Milo Yiannopoulos.

Sometimes, individual abuse reports do result in consequences, although randomly, and extremely unreliably. As Motherboard has written about before, Twitter’s anti-harassment tools are good, but they’re not enough.

Just like Facebook, which confronted its position as a media company this year after a slew of News Feed fumbles and the unfortunate censorship of a historic war photo, Twitter should decide what it really wants to be: a pure free speech platform, or a platform where all communities can safely participate. It can’t have both, but it can set rules and draw lines, and decide how to enforce them.

For now, I guess we can get excited about the hint that editable tweets are probably coming.

from As Literal Nazis Abuse Twitter, CEO Asks How to Improve the Platform

Motherboard's Best Documentaries of 2016

At various points this year, I'd walk into the VICE office and see a member of Motherboard's video team gathering things--team members, camera equipment, paperwork. They were inevitably rushing to catch a plane or rent a car that would take them somewhere we aren't usually supposed to be, whether it's a printing press down the street in Queens or a seed vault buried under 400 feet ice in the Arctic Circle.

Every year I'm in awe of our team: Producers Xavier Aaronson and Lara Heinz, researcher Erik Franco, and a carousel of various VICE camera operators, editors, production assistants, and a whole host of other supporting players along the way who make even the simplest videos possible. Someone should make a video about watching a story go from from seed of an idea to the chaotic organize-and-shoot phase, to the intricate business of cutting a video. Even though I've watched it happen dozens of times, it still feels like a minor miracle that my colleagues are able to consistently churn out documentaries worth watching. Here's some of our favorites from this year. - Jason Koebler

The Global Seed Vault

I first heard about the Global Seed Vault—a sort of Noah's Ark of seeds buried beneath 400 feet of Arctic ice—a few years ago. I found the idea of building a backup plan for food shortages, mass extinction events, and agricultural catastrophes to be intensely interesting, but I had no frame of reference for actually imagining what such a place would look like. What Xavier Aaronson found behind an iced-over door in Svalbard, Norway is Earth's ultimate prepper shelter.

Cyborg Beetles

Once or twice a year, my colleagues make a video that reminds me that the FUTURE IS NUTS, and, oh yeah, it's happening today. Cyborg Beetles can be summarized with this completely normal sentence: Aerospace engineers in Singapore control real, live beetles with a Wii controller.

Bionic Arm

The "cool prosthetic" genre of video is one science news viewers have likely come across—university researchers love to issue them as press releases, which often get embedded in news stories. There's nothing wrong with that, per se, but those videos rarely show the psychological ramifications of becoming a bionic person, and a patient's struggle with adapting to and using prosthetic technology. This episode of Humans+ is cool because it's futuristic, but Melissa Loomis's tribulations and triumphs make it a must watch.

Surrounded: Island of the Sharks

We once again sent Xavier to a far-flung, exotic locale to make a movie, and once again he came back with one of our best pieces of the year. "Surrounded" explores a surprising rise in shark attacks off the coast of Reunion, a small French territory in the Indian Ocean, through the islanders' relationship with the ocean and the animals.

The Machinists

The Machinists was our first episode of "State of Repair," a series I had been wanting to make for quite some time. After profiling the guys over at iFixit, I realized that all our fancy new technology get tons of attention when it launches, but we rarely think about who keeps things running in the interim, or what happens to our stuff when it eventually dies. I couldn't have asked for a better pilot than "The Machinists"—three old school New Yorkers who got along great, all access to an intensely visual and impressive printing plant, a camera crew who could take advantage of it, and a good story about the people who are keeping print alive.

Greatest Moments in Hacking History

Motherboard's staff wanted to take explore new video formats with our Pilot Week, in which we launched five new shortform shows that were unlike anything we'd done before. It was a fun experiment, but the new formats didn't go over too well with our viewers—maybe we were having too much fun. The clear standout of these episodes, though, was one that was most similar to our documentaries in format, if not in visual style. Greatest Moments in Hacking History takes a sitdown interview with Samy Kamkar and turns it into a quirky animated piece about the time he hacked MySpace.

The Church of Perpetual Life

Transhumanism is one of Motherboard's favorite topics, but because the movement is still in its infancy and much of its science is in the early stages, it had been hard to translate subject matter that makes great written articles into great videos. Then, we found the Church of Perpetual Life, a transhumanist temple in Hollywood, Florida, where parishioners believe they won't ever have to die. I like this piece because transhumanism is inherently about people, and so it was important that we finally got to pick some brains before they one day get cryonically frozen.

The Golden Toilet

I did at least a handful of pieces this year that I consider to be good journalism, but at VICE's holiday party this year, I was repeatedly approached by people I had never met, who inevitably asked me about the golden toilet. What could have been a disaster in a number of possible ways—penis flashing on live video among them—somehow turned out as close to perfect as I could have hoped: Line waiters' musings on the nature of luxury and on Trump; a Dutch man who was all too happy to tell us, in excruciating detail, that he had just shit in a golden toilet; and a correspondent (that's me) who had more than a little stage fright when it finally came time to piss in a toilet worth millions of dollars.

from Motherboard's Best Documentaries of 2016

So… How Much Porn Is on Tumblr?

It’s sort of a comfort that despite most of the internet being colonized by anodyne corporate platforms, people are still incredibly horny online.

Of course, we all know this. The internet is “for porn,” after all, and gloriously porny subcultures thrive on platforms like Tumblr and Twitter. But the scientific question is: how horny are we, exactly?

Read More: Your Porn Is Watching You

Researchers from two universities in Italy and Bell Labs decided to take a crack at answering this hugely important question by looking at data from Tumblr and Flickr, both Yahoo properties. They published their results to the arXiv preprint server last week, and the research was also presented at a conference earlier in the year. Their surprising conclusion: Tumblr has a lot of porn, while Flickr, not so much.

To get this result, the researchers looked at anonymized data from 130 million Tumblr users and 39 million Flickr users. They then analyzed the accounts to identify producers (people who post original pornographic content on their page) and consumers (people who follow these users). There was also a third group: the “unintentionally exposed.” That is, people who don’t follow producers or reblog them, but follow others who do.

Image: Coletto et. al.

On Tumblr, the number of producers was very small, less than 1 percent of the sample. But the number of consumers was much higher: 22 percent. But most surprising is the large number of unintentionally exposed users. All in all, direct consumers of porn and the unintentionally exposed make up just over half of the entire sample of users. The sample was about half of Tumblr’s total user base, meaning it's fairly representative.

The Flickr data is less interesting to look at, mostly because it’s lame. The vast majority of users—82 percent—were not exposed to porn accounts at all. We can only speculate about why this is, but the researchers note that self-reported demographic data suggests the user base of Tumblr is largely young and female, while Flickr skews older and male.

It may have something to do with an established culture of fun-loving deviance on Tumblr. While Flickr has a history of banning public porn posts and filtering NSFW material going back more than a decade, Tumblr was a bit of a free-for-all until 2013 (it launched in 2007) when it was acquired by Yahoo and became more serious about NSFW content filtering.

To sum up: Tumblr users are very horny.

Get six of our favorite Motherboard stories every day by signing up for our newsletter.

from So… How Much Porn Is on Tumblr?

The Five Most Revolutionary Scientific Trends to Look Out For In 2017

2016 was a powerful year for science and technology innovation. CRISPR gene editing technology became nearly a household name with its potential to affect humanity. SpaceX rockets landed themselves. And a baby was born with three parents.

But what’s in store for 2017?

While some decry the developed world is falling apart due to changing political environments, science and technology innovation is likely to continue thriving. In fact, innovation is occurring so fast, I believe 2017 will be the year governments begin to consider forming new science, technology, and futurist agencies and organizations to better contend with the rapid change. The old ones are mired in bureaucracy, conservative religious ideology, and the past—unable to contend with issues like nanotechnology, artificial intelligence, and virtual reality. Borrowing from The Wizard of Oz, “We’re not in Kansas anymore.”

Let’s take a look at the top five developments I anticipate for 2017:

1) Neural prosthetics—the idea we can benefit greatly by connecting our thoughts directly to the computing power of machines—will become the holy grail of human progress.

Artificial intelligence and robotics are developing so quickly that in the next decade, I believe they’ll take away approximately 25 million jobs in America from humans. In case you don’t know how many jobs that is, that’s about three times as many jobs as was lost during the recent Great Recession in the US.

America should look at natural disasters and past wartime scenarios to get an idea of how disruptive AI and robotics will be to the economy. Already, the world’s largest hedge fund is creating tech to replace its workers with machine intelligence in less than five years time. Don’t expect Wall Street to have human workers in 10 years time, unless they can somehow upgrade themselves.

That’s where neural prosthetics comes in. It’s a technology that can and might keep humans competitive indefinitely. These so-called brain readers and communicators will allow humans to utilize AI—in real time cognition—for its own intelligence. After all, what’s better than a super smart human mind? A super smart human mind directly connected to a super smart artificial intelligence.

Personally, I love this idea. And I have volunteered to be a test subject of implants and headsets that read brain waves. My senior thesis in college was on brains in a vat, and the idea of being a part of the Matrix fascinates me.

The use of neural prosthetics will change human nature, but without it, I doubt humans can be competitive in the future to machine labor. Besides without human labor, there’s no guarantee capitalism, as we know it, can survive. After all, capitalism is based on human labor, and if machines do everything, then it’s likely to end up a very different economic system.

Almost by default, to keep humans competitive in the labor force, we’ll have to become transhuman—and utilize radical technology as intrinsic parts of our bodies. Otherwise, only the very rich will own robotics and AI companies, leaving the rest of us in a jobless dystopia.

One company called Kernel, which launched this year with a 100 million dollars of the founders own money, tech visionary Bryan Johnson, is leading the way. I expect many more startups to join the fray in 2017.

2) President-elect Trump will hire an anti-red tape FDA chief that streamlines the Food and Drug Administration, making more drugs available to save lives and improve health.

No matter how you look at it, the FDA has become a bureaucracy monster. Early in 2016, I wrote about this FDA problem in Motherboard:

“On average, a new drug takes at least 10 years from creation to arrival in your cabinet in America. Additionally, Matthew Herper at Forbes reports that about $5 billion is spent on average developing a new drug. New medical devices—especially those life saving ones—take upwards of seven years to hit the market. For patients, some who are dying to get the drugs and devices, this may as well be an eternity. Nearly all of this has to do with the FDA and the bureaucratic labyrinth that exists to make sure medicine is safe in America.

Now don’t get me wrong, I also want safe medicine. And for the most part, the FDA does that. But sometimes there are more important things than safe medicine, especially if you’re suffering from a debilitating and terminal disease. For example, many people believe access to medicine before they die is more important than whether that medicine is safe or not. And with such a long, laborious, and costly medical approval process in the US, many inventors and companies that would like to create new medicine don’t do it because of the prohibitive procedure of bearing a product from conception to sale.”

One such choice for FDA Chief being floated around by media outlets is free market-minded Jim O’Neill, managing director for Mithril Capital, which was cofounded by Peter Thiel. Mr. O’Neill, who formerly worked in the George W. Bush administration, would be just the kind of person to cut the fat off the FDA and get America better drugs for better health.

3) Driverless cars will appear in all major American cities, challenging state and local laws.

This month Uber was in my hometown of San Francisco, testing out its new driverless vehicles. After several reports of driverless cars running red lights, the California DMW quickly shut it down, sending it packing to Arizona where laws are more favorable.

I found this sad, as did many techno-optimists. Being in driverless cars is one of the more visceral experiences people can have that make them understand the transhumanist age has indeed arrived. Driverless cars will be a philosophical turning point for many Americans, many who are not sure they really believe the future will be automation-ubiquitous.

But like California, some governments—often led by luddite lobbyists and general fear—will resist, setting up the stage for US Congress to consider the matter. At some point, the Supreme Court may even have to get involved to okay such change. The facts are the transportation industry will be completely different animal within 10 years time. And 2017 will be the year local governments rise up to grapple with the coming driverless world.

4) Life Extension science will go mainstream with multiple science breakthroughs and new companies joining the quest for the “Fountain of Youth”

2016 was a banner year or the life extension industry. Even Mark Zuckerberg came out and established his own multi-billion dollar commitment with the goal of curing, preventing, or managing all human disease by the end of the century. The rise of CRISPR genetic editing further gave the movement new firepower as the possibility to rewrite our very own genetic code—including our hereditary shortcoming and the aging process—became not just possible, but plausible. Finally, events like the thousand-person life extension-oriented RAAD Festival, the Longevity Cookbook, and my own Immortality Bus made headlines as America wondered aloud what indefinite lifespans meant—and how it might affect humanity.

Despite that, we still live in a country with strong deathist attitudes. Ironically, I suspect that life extension will become much more well known in a Republican controlled-government, as the conflict between religious values and science allowing us to live indefinitely ultimately reach a climax, one that will end up in civil strife and Congressional discussion.

I’ve said this on my presidential campaign trail before: The more people that label transhumanism as something dangerous, the more popular it’ll become. That’s human nature for you.

5) Because many leaders in the incoming Trump Administration don’t believe in climate change, scientists will change their focus from carbon footprint prevention to radical geoengineering tech to save the planet.

As a journalist who’s traveled extensively to write more than a dozen environmental stories—many for National Geographic—I’ve seen some of the Earth’s destruction firsthand. I’ve witnessed the decimation of millions of hectares of Paraguay’s forests. I’ve seen major oil spills in the ocean. And as a Communications Director at nonprofit WildAid I’ve searched for extremely endangered species in Southeast Asia—some that are simply no longer there.

It’s sad what we as a people have done to Planet Earth. But we will rebuild. And I believe we will make Earth more plentiful and beautiful than ever before. How? With radical technology that is right now being created in laboratories around the world.

In just 10 years time, I believe we may have the ability through genetic editing to regrow rainforests at 5-10 times their normal speed of growth—giving us the power to replenish the damaged Amazon basin. We already have some of the Jurassic Park tech to bring back endangered species like the Siamese Crocodile in Cambodia, where just about 400 remain in the wild. And we already have ways to do basic engineering on our climate. Rain is not something sent from the “gods,” but the precise mixture of certain weather and atmospheric conditions, as China is already experimenting with. We are learning how to make it. We can be the new generation of rain makers—or of endless sunny days (though presumably we’d want a mixture of both).

Perhaps, the leading green tech will be nanotechnology—where we can literally remake the planet to our taste. This type of tech involves affecting and building matter and objects on a molecular level. In line with this tech are ways of consuming pollution or even garbage—the hope is we can create nanobots that eat the waste and pollution humans have made. Already, researchers are experimenting with fungi that eat plastic.

Transhumanism is the key to making the Earth pristine again, not forcing people to make less of a carbon footprint. While I believe in respecting the Earth and not polluting it, the future of beautifying nature belongs more to technology and science than human restraint. That said, my techno-optimism knows that geoengineering presents risks too, as we would be in uncharted territory. We must be careful not to create unintended long term consequences of our environment we can’t reverse.

Despite challenges, I’m betting 2017 is the year scientists, technologists, engineers, and the public begin to openly accept geoengineering as a leading way to fulfill goals of the environmental movement. In the face of an American government and leadership that largely is not interested in climate change, the best way forward is likely through radical science and technology innovation.

Zoltan Istvan is a futurist, author of The Transhumanist Wager, and was the 2016 US Presidential candidateof the Transhumanist Party. He writes an occasional columnfor Motherboard in which he ruminates on the future beyond human ability.

from The Five Most Revolutionary Scientific Trends to Look Out For In 2017

US Response to DNC Hack Targets One of the Most Notorious Russian Cybercriminals

On Thursday, the US publicly responded to Russia's likely hacking of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and other political organizations. The US has ejected 35 Russian intelligence operatives from the country, the New York Times reports.

The US has also imposed sanctions on a series of individuals and organizations. As it turns out, some of those are against already infamous Russian cybercriminals, although the sanctions may be more symbolic than anything else.

According to an announcement from the US Department of the Treasury, the government added groups such as Zor Security—a Russian cybersecurity company that appears to sell hacking tools and possibly computer exploits—to sanction lists, as well as senior members of Russian intelligence agency GRU.

But some other names immediately jump out, such as Evgeniy Mikhaylovich Bogachev, otherwise known as lucky12345. Bogachev is the alleged operator of the now-disrupted GameOver Zeus botnet, which has been used to steal banking credentials and other information from personal computers.

Bogachev, who still has a $3 million information bounty on his head, has long been suspected of having ties to the Russian government and its espionage campaigns. Michael Sandee, principal security expert at cybersecurity company Fox-IT, told Forbes last year he found that Bogachev or one of his customers was seeking out information related to foreign intelligence agencies in Georgia, Turkey, and Ukraine.

However, it is not clear whether these latest sanctions are supposed to mean that the US suspects Bogachev was actually involved in the attacks on the DNC, or whether it was more of a strike against an already known target. The FBI did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Also included in the sanction list is Alexsey Belan, currently wanted by the FBI for charges of computer intrusion, aggravated identity theft, and fraud in connection with a computer. There is currently a $100,000 reward for information that leads to his arrest.

from US Response to DNC Hack Targets One of the Most Notorious Russian Cybercriminals

White House fails to make case that Russian hackers tampered with election

Climate researcher’s defamation suit about insulting columns is on

The most dramatic patent and copyright cases of 2016

In Utah, an old geothermal plant gets a new life with hydroelectric additions

Deprecated: The Ars 2017 tech company Deathwatch

Here Are the 10 Most Popular Motherboard Stories from 2016

Motherboard published thousands of stories this year. Some of them were great, some of them were kinda bland; some of them were hugely popular, some fell flat. Those two gradients are always as tightly correlated as we'd like, but running an internet media outlet means successfully blending our big, intensive features and investigations with more digestible reporting and some fun stuff too. Editing is not much different than DJing, and sometimes you first gotta play Montell Jordan before you get people dancing to Curtis Mayfield.

I'm happy to report that all the stories on our list of favorites—our most ambitious, our most impactful, the ones we all got in this business to do—were, on the whole, read by a whole boatload of people.

But what were our most popular stories, the ones most scintillatingly clicky, the ones that jumped out and grabbed your eyeballs as you thumbed through your feeds? In a shock change from years past, the most-read stories we published this year weren't all about sex and drugs. I'm not sure if that says more about the Motherboard staff or all of you lovely readers out there, but hey, I'm sure our moms are happy.

The #1 Most Popular Motherboard Post of 2016
Watch This Guy Turn on a 20,000 Watt Light Bulb
Video posts are the most consistently popular format on Motherboard, so this one going wild doesn't come as a shock. We don't aggregate news, but we do try to publish a couple cool vids a day since you all sure seem to like them. We do too!

2. Goodbye World: We’ve Passed the Carbon Tipping Point For Good
Headlines are the most important factor in whether a story gets read or not, which is why there are so many terrible or misleading ones out there, or good headlines on stories that don't deliver. This is a good headline on a great story, and I'm stoked to see an environment story at #2 this year.

3. 'Pokémon Go' Players Are Spoofing GPS Locations to Catch' Em All
Pokémon Go appeared to be a traffic bonanza for just about every site that could cover it, as the game was just a wee bit popular for a hot moment this year. I'm happy that our most-read PoGo story highlighted one fundamental question about the game: How willing are people to leave the house to play a video game? Obviously folks were more than willing to during the height of the craze, but now? Maybe not so much.

4. Watch Over 100 People Try to Stop a Plane Landing in GTA V
It's all too easy to be cynical about viral videos but I enjoyed the hell out of this one. It's always cool to see people band together for a singular task online, and stopping a jet with a crowd makes for one surreal experience.

5. Watch a Speed Test Comparing All the iPhones Ever Made
I'm not entirely sure that iPhone news is as popular as they used to be, but it doesn't seem that way. In any case, comparisons like this make for a great entry point in some tech history, which we all love. (For some more ephemeral gadget history, Tedium is always fun to read.)

6. Geniuses Say Apple Knows About iPhone 6 ‘Touch Disease’, Won't Admit It Publicly
We're always pushing Motherboard to take a more populist approach: Shiny gadgets and laser-armed drones are all fun to think about, but what matters the most it how those things affect all of us. I'm glad to see that this exposé on a critical hardware flaw that Apple refused to discuss publicly, despite tons of user complaints, did as well as it did as it's an ideal Motherboard story.

7. The Artist Behind ‘Baby Dick’ Trump Pic Is Now Banned from Facebook
Trump stories surely topped the list of a lot of media outlets' most popular reads of 2016. Since so much of Trump news revolves around microcontroversies that he creates himself to distract from past controversies—an outrage pyramid scheme, I guess—we didn't cover him all that much, aside from his astounding lack of concrete positions on most everything in our wheelhouse. But Facebook's ongoing difficulties with its News Feed and censorship are notable, and this story makes for a rather bizarre juxtaposition with the other big story this year about Facebook blocking an image.

8. Who Is the Last Active Player in This Long-Dead MMO?
This is a question I never thought about until it was asked, and now I can't stop thinking about entropy in digital worlds.

9. Climate Change Just Opened a 'Gateway to the Underworld' in Siberia
A truly fascinating story that highlights one of the biggest questions around our warming world: What happens when permafrost melts? Well, all kinds of crazy shit happens, from releasing ancient viruses to opening up hell portals. Let's try to keep the frozen stuff frozen, okay?

10. The Canadian Military Is Investigating a Mysterious Noise In the Arctic
I love weird sounds!

from Here Are the 10 Most Popular Motherboard Stories from 2016