mfioretti: drones*

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  1. Finally, there’s what the authors call “political security” – using AI to automate tasks involved in surveillance, persuasion (creating targeted propaganda) and deception (eg, manipulating videos). We can also expect new kinds of attack based on machine-learning’s capability to infer human behaviours, moods and beliefs from available data. This technology will obviously be welcomed by authoritarian states, but it will also further undermine the ability of democracies to sustain truthful public debates. The bots and fake Facebook accounts that currently pollute our public sphere will look awfully amateurish in a couple of years.

    The report is available as a free download and is worth reading in full. If it were about the dangers of future or speculative technologies, then it might be reasonable to dismiss it as academic scare-mongering. The alarming thing is most of the problematic capabilities that its authors envisage are already available and in many cases are currently embedded in many of the networked services that we use every day. William Gibson was right: the future has already arrived.
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  2. where does all this leave tech startups? Struggling, and probably hoping to be acquired by a larger company, ideally one of the Big Five. While some breakout startups will still doubtless arise, they’ll be far rarer than they were during the boom years.

    We’re already seeing this. Consider Y Combinator, by all accounts the gold standard of startup accelerators, famously harder to get into than Harvard. Then consider its alumni. Five years ago, in 2012, its three poster children were clearly poised to dominate their markets and become huge companies: Airbnb, Dropbox, and Stripe. And so it came to pass.

    Fast forward to today, and Y Combinator’s three poster children are… unchanged. In the last six years YC have funded more than twice as many startups as they did in their first six — but I challenge you to name any of their post-2011 alumni as well-positioned today as their Big Three were in 2012. The only one that might have qualified, for a time, was Instacart. But Amazon broke into that game with Amazon Fresh, and, especially, their purchase of Whole Foods.

    From here on in, the existing tech titans will accrue ever more power, and startups will be increasingly hard-pressed to compete. This is not a good thing. Big businesses already have too much power. Amazon and Google are so dominant that there are loud calls for them to be regulated. Fake news shared on Facebook may have swayed the most recent presidential election.

    What’s more, startups bring fresh approaches and thinking, while hidebound behemoths stagnate in their old ways of doing things. But for the next five to ten years, thanks to the nature of the new technologies coming down the pipe, those behemoths will just keep accruing ever more power — until, we can hope, the pendulum swings back again.
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  3. Boston - Drone technology is more often associated with outside activities. However, drones can also be used internally to a business, such as in a warehouse. Technologists have developed a system that allows aerial drones to read RFID tags tens of meters away.
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  4. Interest in drones for both commercial and casual purposes is raising not only safety and privacy concerns, but also thorny legal questions about where and when drones should be allowed to fly—and who gets to decide.

    On one side are those who say property owners’ rights generally extend up about 500 feet, which gives them the right to prevent drones from flying or hovering over their land. They say drones pose a much bigger threat to security and privacy than jets and airplanes, which travel at higher altitudes, in airspace regulated by the FAA.

    Others aren’t so sure. They say drones represent the next frontier in aviation,

    Drones don’t have, and shouldn’t be given, a legal right to fly over private property in defiance of the wishes of the landowner. Such overflights threaten privacy and safety, and destroy Fourth Amendment rights.

    Just as homeowners have a horizontal curtilage in which property rights extend to include the grounds and buildings that immediately surround a home, homeowners have—or ought to have—a vertical curtilage. Property rights in the curtilage include the right to sell the land and, crucially, the right to exclude others. Before airplanes, the right to exclude went up indefinitely; now it usually ends at 500 feet, where navigable airspace managed by the FAA begins. Lowering it any further, however, would be a big mistake.
    What Twitter and Facebook Said

    We asked readers on social networks if one should be allowed to prevent drones from flying over one’s property. Here’s what we heard.

    Our roundup

    Today, if someone flies a drone over your land below the FAA’s reserved airspace, the drone operator is, quite simply, trespassing in the same way as if the operator ran through your backyard. That trespass matters because drones can carry surveillance gear, and can be operated from long distances or fly autonomously.
    Tags: , , , by M. Fioretti (2017-04-20)
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  5. Maternal mortality rates in Africa are among the highest in the world, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO), largely due to postpartum haemorrhage caused by lack of access to simple blood transfusions.

    Rwanda is no exception, and the situation here is worsened by the topography of a country dubbed “the land of a thousand hills” as well as intense seasonal rains making the transport of blood by road often long and difficult.

    Blood “is a very precious commodity so you cannot just stock a lot of it in every single heath centre,” said Keller Rinaudo, CEO of Zipline, a California-based robotics company that designed the 15 drones and the base housing them in Muhanga, 50 kilometres (31 miles) west of the capital Kigali.

    – Faster, more efficient –
    Rinaudo hopes his drone delivery system will “allow the Rwandan government to instantly deliver life-saving transfusions to any citizen in the country in 15 to 30 minutes.”

    US package-delivery giant UPS and global vaccine alliance Gavi have invested $1.1 million (one million euros) in the Zipline project, one of a handful on the continent seeking to harness the potential of delivery drones to overcome poor infrastructure.

    For the Rwandan government blood delivery by drone is not cheaper, but it promises to be much faster.
    Tags: , , by M. Fioretti (2016-10-17)
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  6. Verizon, the telecom company, used an unmanned aircraft — operated by a partner company — over parts of flooded North Carolina this week to check cellular site locations for connectivity and damage.

    In a blog post, the company said the first drone inspection it conducted after Hurricane Matthew was over Elm City, N.C. and the Tar River Reservoir, an area still too submerged for ground vehicles. Verizon determined the state of its equipment and sent a boat with technicians, who restored service within hours.

    The insurance company Allstate also flew a drone last week to assess damage to property in Savannah, Ga. after Hurricane Matthew barreled through the city, wiping out boardwalks, piers and rooftops along the coast.

    Instead of having a person inspect the roof damage from a tree that fell on a house, Allstate took bird’s-eye view photos with a drone, which can be both faster and safer than having a person climb a compromised structure, the Savannah Morning News reported.

    Another insurance company, Travelers, has a full team of trained drone pilots surveying the damage in South Carolina, Georgia and other states hit by the storm.
    Tags: , by M. Fioretti (2016-10-17)
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  7. A federal judge in Connecticut has ruled against a young drone operator and his father. They will now have to turn over a slew of documents and materials as part of a Federal Aviation Administration investigation.

    The two men and their legal team argued that the FAA lacks authority to regulate drones, but the FAA clearly disagrees with this assessment.

    As Ars reported previously, the case dates back to July 2015. The pilot, Austin Haughwout, posted a video of his drone rigged up with a handgun. By early November 2015, the Federal Aviation Administration sent the two Haughwouts an administrative subpoena seeking a substantial amount of records, including purchase records and an accounting of what monies, if any, were gained from the "Flying Gun" YouTube video.

    His father, Bret Haughwout, declined the government’s efforts. He told the FAA in an e-mail that because the agency had not alleged a particular violation he was under no obligation to comply. The FAA has not accused either man of a crime, but the organization merely seeks to acquire further information about their drone-related activities.

    Within weeks, Austin Haughwout published a second video, dubbed "Roasting the Holiday Turkey." It shows a drone with a flamethrower attached, firing at a turkey roasting on a spit. Again, the FAA asked the Haughwouts to respond, and again, they refused.
    Tags: , , by M. Fioretti (2016-07-24)
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  8. At least 47 civilians were killed and 35 inured on Thursday after the bombing of a wedding in Yemen. Dozens of people are missing. Officials say hospitals are overwhelmed with victims.

    The Saudi-led, U.S.-backed coalition that has repeatedly bombed the rebel-held area for months denies responsibility for the airstrike. Just 10 days before however, on Sep. 28, the coalition attacked another Yemeni wedding, killing 131 more civilians, including at least 80 women.

    The Saudi government claimed the former wedding bombing — which marked the deadliest day in the over six month-long war in Yemen — was an accident, insisting it had meant to target Houthi rebels. A representative of humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders who was present during the attack, nevertheless, said that there was no military presence near the wedding.

    U.S. politicians and media outlets have been remarkably quiet about the war that has devastated Yemen for over half a year now. Fighting broke out on March 26 between a coalition of Middle Eastern nations and militants loyal to President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi, led by Saudi Arabia and armed by the U.S. The coalition is combating Houthi rebels and militants loyal to former President Ali Abdullah Saleh
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  9. here’s nothing “lone” about drone warfare. Think of the structure for carrying out Washington’s drone killing program as a multidimensional pyramid populated with hundreds of personnel and so complex that just about no one involved really grasps the full picture. Cian Westmoreland, a U.S. Air Force veteran who helped set up the drone data communications system over southeastern Afghanistan back in 2009, puts the matter bluntly: “There are so many people in the chain of actions that it has become increasingly difficult to understand the true impact of what we do. The diffusion of responsibility distances people from the moral weight of their decisions.”

    In addition, it’s a program under pressure, killing continually, and losing its own personnel at a startling and possibly unsustainable rate due to “wounds” that no one ever imagined as part of this war. There are, in fact, two groups feeling the greatest impact from Washington’s ongoing air campaigns: lowly drone intelligence “analysts,” often fresh out of high school, and women and children living in poverty on the other side of the world.

    A Hyper-Manned Killing Machine

    Here, then, as best it can be understood, is how the Air Force version of unmanned aerial warfare really works -- and keep in mind that the CIA’s drone war operations are deeply integrated into this system.

    The heart of drone war operations does indeed consist of a single pilot and a sensor (camera) operator, typically seated next to each other thousands of miles from the action at an Air Force base like Creech in Nevada or Cannon in New Mexico. There, they operate Predator or Reaper drones over countries like Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Somalia, Syria, or Yemen. Either of them might have control over the onboard Hellfire missiles, but it would be wrong to assume that they are the modern day equivalent of the Lone Ranger and his sidekick, Tonto.

    In fact a typical “combat air patrol” may have as many as 186 individuals working on it. To begin with, while the pilot and the sensor operator make up the central “mission-control element,” they need a “launch-and-recovery element” on the other side of the world to physically deploy the drones and bring them back to bases in Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, and elsewhere. As with so much that the U.S. military now does, this work is contracted out to companies like Raytheon of Massachusetts.

    And don’t forget another key group: the imagery and intelligence analysts who watch the video footage the drones are beaming from their potential target areas. They are typically at other bases in the U.S.
    Tags: , by M. Fioretti (2015-11-11)
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  10. Let's survey what's happening around the world.

    In Tokyo, a man flew a drone carrying a bottle containing radioactive cesium onto the roof of the Prime Minister's office in April to protest the Fukushima nuclear disaster.

    In the U.S. this year, two drones flew illegally near the White House, with one landing on the lawn. Fortunately, both were radiation-free. Given that a postman flying a Mad Max-style gyrocopter can land where he likes in sleepy D.C., perhaps we shouldn't be too surprised that the Capitol's skies are so inviting to drones.

    In Geraldton, Australia, a drone filming a triathlon fell from close range, hitting one of the athletes, knocking her to the ground and giving her a head injury.

    In Tijuana, Mexico, pop singer Enrique Iglesias learned during a May concert that reaching out and grabbing a drone can cause injury. The drone sliced through several of his fingers, fracturing bone and damaging nerves.

    While these accidents and injuries don't seem like an onslaught, they're just the start. With drones exploding in popularity and plummeting in price, we'll see more problems.

    Such idiocy was on full display during a recent wildfire in California, where hobby drones buzzing in critical airspace held up firefighters from dispatching helicopters with water buckets for up to 20 minutes.

    So far, the legislative response to such incidents doesn't match the task at hand. Proposed California legislation would allow firefighters immunity for taking down drones, and would impose fines and jail time if a drone interrupts a firefighter's work.
    Tags: , by M. Fioretti (2015-08-25)
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