First creatures to embark on interstellar travel within a generation

Scientists are planning to send the first creatures on a journey beyond the solar system within a generation, using laser-propelled spaceships and suspended animation.

“Humanity has dreamed of interstellar flight for more than 100 years. We are working on bringing this dream to reality for all of us, but particularly for the next generation,” said Philip Lubin, a physicist at University of California Santa Barbara (UCSB) and leader of the university’s Experimental Cosmology Group, where he is pioneering the research with colleague Joel Rothman.

The would-be interstellar astronauts are nematodes and tardigrades, microscopic creatures commonly used in scientific research, which would be used to assess the viability of stasis as a means of achieving interstellar travel.

“Following the longest voyage ever taken by a terrestrial creature, we can wake them up and ask how they’re enjoying the trip, whether they reproduce normally and how well they remember what we taught them on Earth,” said Rothman, a biologist at UCSB.

A proposed laser-propelled sail. Image courtesy of Adrian Mann / UCSB Experimental Cosmology Group

The journey will be taken on tiny spacecraft propelled by lasers, which are currently being developed in a NASA-backed project at UCSB known as Starlight.

These spacecraft, which have been dubbed spacechips, are radically different from those currently in use, involving the  highly focused projection of energy in the form of light – a laser beam – onto a ‘sail’ made up of large mirrors.

Currently in the very early stages of development, they are considered the most promising approach to interstellar travel, and could one day, likely in the far future, be used to transport humans across the stars.

Initially, however, they will only be capable of carrying very small payloads, which is why microscopic creatures have been selected to be the first passengers.

The beloved tardigrade, which will be one of the first creatures to be sent on an interstellar mission

The creatures themselves, nematodes and tardigrades, the latter of which are also known as water bears, have been selected as they have already been used in a multitude of Earth and space-based experiments, making them species where much is known about their behaviour and biology.

Tardigrades also have been subject of considerable attention from the popular science community due to their bizarre yet almost cute appearance and their astonishing hardiness. Resistant to asteroid impacts, gamma ray bursts and supernovae, it is thought that they will be the last creatures to survive on Earth long after every other species has perished.

The project will be showcased at the Raw Science Film Festival, which is taking place later this week in Santa Barbara.

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.