Why sandless sandbags could hold the key to flood protection

The sight of people hauling sandbags along streets and brushing water out of their houses has become a familiar scene in the United Kingdom, as floods have gripped large parts of the country.

British Prime Minister David Cameron promised those with homes underwater that money “is no object” but also warned they will be in it “for the long haul”.  A senior scientist from the Met Office, the leading weather service in the UK, linked the floods in the country and extreme weather in Europe and North America to climate change.

Those who have had their property damaged by the high waters have complained about the lack of aid provided, provoking national newspaper the Sun to launch a campaign to provide sandbags to those who are in need.

While effective at keeping flood water out, sandbags come with a range of problems, including rotting, weight and storage challenges.

With increasing concern over the impact of climate change and the large number of sandbags being used at the moment, modern technology is attempting to change the way we help to prevent floods. This includes upgrading the sandbag to be more environmentally and user-friendly.

One of the biggest disadvantages of the sandbag is its weight, which makes it difficult to move around quickly when a flash flood hits. At just 200g before activated, modern versions such as FloodSax provide a more flexible alternative. A semi-porous inner line within the bags contains gelling polymer which absorbs water to become taut in three minutes. Once the water is inside them it stays there and diverts the flood waters.

These type of modern sandbags come with a host of advantages over the traditional hessian and polypropylene bags, which may prove useful in future emergencies. They are the same size as an unfilled sandbag, making them easy to store and even vacuum packable.

They are also easy to dispose and do not rot like traditional sandbags. The polymer within modern bags can also be mixed in small quantities with soil to assist with moisture retention in summer months

If you’re not a fan of sandbags and are looking for protection from flood waters without buying a boat (or building an ark), design and architecture company Morphopedia have produced a house that floats. When surrounded by water, their prototype house does not float off but instead rises on the water while remaining tethered to vertical guides.


Image courtesy of Jeff Jones.


China uses facial recognition to monitor ethnic minorities

China has been criticised for adding facial recognition to an already obtrusive surveillance system in Xinjiang, a Muslim-dominated region in the country's far west. The "alert project" matches faces from surveillance camera footage to a watchlist of suspects, and supposedly is designed to thwart terrorist attacks.

Source: Engadget

Microsoft execs say the ultimate form of AI is a digital assistant

In an interview with Business Insider, Microsoft president Brad Smith and EVP of AI and research Harry Shum have said the ultimate manifestation of AI in 20 years will be in a digital assistant that will serve as an "alter ego." The two argue that we need to set ground rules for our AI assitants while we still can.

Facebook’s head of AI isn't impressed by Sophia the robot

Facebook's head of AI, Yann LeCun, isn't happy with Sophia the robot. Following a Business Insider interview with Sophia, LeCun took to Twitter to call the whole thing “complete bullsh*t”. He went on to say Sophia masquerading as a semi-sentient entity was "to AI as prestidigitation is to real magic”.

Source: The Verge

Drone saves the lives of two swimmers

Two teenage boys were rescued by a brand new lifesaving drone in Australia, while lifeguards were still training to use the device. When a member of the public spotted them struggling in heavy surf about 700m (2,300ft) offshore the drone was sent out and dropped an inflatable rescue pod, which allowed the pair to make their way safely to shore.

Source: BBC

Google defends the right to not let people be forgotten online

Google is going to court to defend it's right to not abide by "the right to be forgotten", which it says “represent[s] a serious assault on the public’s right to access lawful information. Two anonymous people want the search engine to take down links to information about their old convictions because search engine results attract “adverse attention”.

Source: Bloomberg

UK Police delivering daily briefings via Amazon Echo

Lancashire police have begun streaming daily briefings straight to peoples' homes through Amazon Echo. Users will get hourly updates as well as pictures of wanted and missing people sent directly to their devices. "Alexa works alongside traditional policing methods to inform the public about the important issues in their neighbourhoods," said PC Rob Flanagan.

Source: BBC

A quarter of ethical hackers don’t report cybersecurity concerns because it’s not clear who they should be reporting them to

Almost a quarter of hackers have not reported a vulnerability that they found because the company didn’t have a channel to disclose it, according to a survey of the ethical hacking community.

With 1,698 respondents, the 2018 Hacker Report, conducted by the cybersecurity platform HackerOne, is the largest documented survey ever conducted of the ethical hacking community.

In the survey, HackerOne reports that nearly 1 in 4 hackers have not reported a vulnerability because the company in question lacks a vulnerability disclosure policy (VDP) or a formal method for receiving vulnerability submissions from the outside world.

Without a VDP, ethical, white-hat hackers are forced to go through other channels like social media or emailing personnel in the company, but, as the survey states, they are “frequently ignored or misunderstood”.

Despite some companies lacking a VDP, the hackers surveyed in the report did say that companies are becoming more open to receiving information about vulnerabilities than they were in the past.

Of the 1,698 respondents, 72% noted that companies have become more open to receiving vulnerability reports in the past year,

That figure includes 34% of hackers who believe companies have become far more open.

Unlike a bug bounty program, a VDP does not offer hackers financial incentives for their findings, but they are still incredibly effective.

Organisations like the US Department of Defence have received and resolved nearly 3,000 security vulnerabilities in the last 18 months from their VDP alone.

India (23%) and the United States (20%) are the top two countries represented by the HackerOne hacker community, followed by Russia (6%), Pakistan (4%) and the United Kingdom (4%).

The report revealed that because bug bounties usually have no geographical boundaries the payments involved can be life changing for some hackers.

The top hackers based in India earn 16 times the median salary of a software engineer. And on average, top earning hackers make 2.7 times the median salary of a software engineer in their home country.

In terms of which demographics are attracted to a life of ethical hacking, the report found that over 90% of hackers are under the age of 35, and unsurprisingly the vast majority of hackers on the HackerOne platform are male.