This Week in Tech: Sept 29 – Oct 5

Elon Musk got away with a $20 million fine for himself and his electric car company Tesla. Even with “Mad Max” mode engaged, he couldn’t race away from the chaos he left behind fast enough.

E-cigarette smoke is not permitted on board the Hyperloop, please stash them in your check-in luggage after your compulsory face scan.

Read on to see what else has been going on in tech in the last seven days.

Hackers Accessed 50 Million Facebook Accounts. Hackers accessed data from nearly 50 million Facebook accounts. The company does not know who was behind the attack.

You Can Now Navigate a US Airport Terminal Using Just Your Face as ID. At the first biometric terminal in the U.S., travelers will have the ability to use facial recognition tech to identify themselves.

Actually, Elon Staying at Tesla Is the Best Case Scenario. As per a settlement with the Securities and Exchanges Commission, Elon Musk is stepping down as chairman of Tesla but staying on at CEO. That’s best case scenario for the electric car company.

Here’s What It’s like to Drive with Tesla’s New “Mad Max” Autopilot Mode. A Tesla driver posted two videos of his vehicle in Mad Max mode, a new setting that increases the aggressiveness of lane changes.

The FDA Just Raided the Headquarters of E-Cigarette Maker JUUL. The FDA just announced it raided the headquarters of popular e-cigarette maker Juul for selling vapes to underage users. And they got plenty of warnings.

The First Full-Scale Hyperloop Passenger Capsule Has Arrived. At a ceremony in Spain, Hyperloop Transportation Technologies unveiled Quintero One, the first full-sized hyperloop passenger capsule.

More on science: This Week in Tech: Sept 22 – Sep 28

Experts Worry a Landmark Report on Climate Change Will Call For Unrealistic Tech

Unicorn Tech

On Monday, experts from 150 countries will release an important report detailing ways to keep global temperatures down in the face of climate change.

Sounds like a good thing, right?

Well, not everyone is happy. That’s because a draft of the report suggested that we would need to use huge machines that suck carbon out of the atmosphere to meet our climate goals. An unnamed expert familiar with the report told the BBC that such machines are “carbon unicorns” — implying that while, yes, they sound amazing in theory, they’re simply unrealistic.

Sci-Fi Solutions

The purpose of this report, which the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is currently drafting in South Korea, is to provide the international community with a roadmap it could follow to get the climate situation under control.

We’re facing an uphill battle on that front, so the IPCC may feel pressure to include a too-good-to-be-true solution in the document in an attempt to generate some optimism — or at least offer a path forward.

Still, what we need are viable solutions, not “unicorns.” Thankfully, the BBC reports that the IPCC’s document will include some of those as well, such as planting more trees.

And to be fair, the price of removing carbon from the air is falling — though the technology needs far more work before it’s a practical solution to our climate woes.

READ MORE: Caution urged over use of ‘carbon unicorns’ to limit warming [BBC]

More on carbon capture: Cheap Carbon Capture Technology Might Make Our Climate Goals Possible

This Brain-Analyzing AI Could Kill Your Dream of Being a Professional Athlete

Sorry, Fry

In the pilot episode of “Futurama,” the character Philip J. Fry wakes up in the year 2999 after a millennia-long slumber in a cryogenic tank. Soon after, a computerized device called a “probulator” assesses the former pizza delivery boy’s skillset to assign him a new job: delivery boy.

Now, life imitates art: Researchers have created a machine that scans a person’s brain to determine their aptitude at certain tasks. And while it doesn’t yield results quite so definitive as “delivery boy,” it’s not hard to see the system as a stepping stone on the path to a device that could.

Don’t Think

In a study published Wednesday in the journal Science Advances, researchers describe how they used a machine-learning system to analyze the brain activity of 30 surgeons wearing electroencephalography (EEG) caps as they carried out simulated surgeries.

They found that activity levels in the motor cortex, which is responsible for dexterous movements, were higher in more skilled surgeons. Less skilled surgeons, meanwhile, showed increased activity in the prefrontal cortex, an area responsible for complex planning.

The apparent finding: greener surgeons had to “think” more about what they were doing, while the more experienced surgeons simply did it.

Dream Killer

The researchers told The Wall Street Journal they hope their system will improve how we train surgeons and not limit what surgeons can do, but it’s not hard to imagine how it could do the latter — for surgeons, athletes, pilots, or any profession.

Eventually, it’s easy to imagine a society like “Futurama,” where a computer decides your job based on what you’re good at, even if you’re passionate about something else.

And we’re not sure if that’s simply logical or dystopian as hell.

READ MORE: Brain Scans Can Detect Who Has Better Skills [The Wall Street Journal]

More on brain scans: Brain Scans of Stressed Pilots Uncover a Big Problem with How We Do Science

Pour One out for MASCOT, the Asteroid-Exploring Lander

Gone

MASCOT’s lifespan was shorter than the average mayfly’s, but we’d like to see an insect accomplish half of what this robot did during the 17 hours it bounced around the asteroid Ryugu.

The German Aerospace Center built MASCOT, which is short for Mobile Asteroid Surface Scout, with help from the National Centre for Space Studies, France’s space agency, and it was one of several bots to hitch a ride to Ryugu aboard the Japanese spacecraft Hayabusa-2.

The shoebox-sized robot only just touched down on the asteroid on Tuesday, but by Thursday morning, the people running MASCOT’s Twitter account declared its demise.

But Not Forgotten

While on Ryugu, MASCOT used four instruments — a camera, a spectrometer, a magnetometer, and a radiometer — to gather data about the small rocky body 180 million miles from Earth. It transmitted that data back home. Scientists will now study it to attempt to improve our understanding of asteroids, and maybe even the origin of our solar system.

Researchers projected MASCOT’s non-rechargeable lithium-ion battery would only provide power for 16 hours, so really, the bot was on borrowed time when it finally powered down. And isn’t a longer-than-expected life full of adventure all anyone — robot or otherwise — can hope for?

READ MORE: RIP, MASCOT: Hopping Lander Meets Its End on Asteroid Ryugu [Space.com]

More on Ryugu: A Pair of Japanese Robots (Hopefully) Just Landed on an Asteroid

Fake Elon Musks Clutter Twitter with Crypto Scams

Sure, Elon Musk tweets a lot. Probably more than he should (at least without a lawyer present).

But have you noticed just how many Elon Musks there are on Twitter? A lot.

The controversial billionaire has been the target of countless scams and schemes that often use bots to rope not-so-diligent users into believing it’s him. Fake Elon Musks have been roaming Twitter for years now, some of them with handles that only slightly deviate from the real thing by a letter (like @elonmsuk), while others don’t try nearly as hard (they use Elon’s photo and user name, but with a completely different handle).

The problem is a lot of users peruse the replies and often extremely long threads of the verified Elon Musk’s tweets. Chances are that many of them will fall for “official ETH and BTC giveaways.” A phishing scam that works like this:

  1. Twitter users are reeled in — a tiny “donation” (usually an infinitesimally small amount in an obscure cryptocurrency) that will get me a huge payout in return? Yes, please.
  2. That “donation” comes with sensitive information like credentials for cryptocurrency wallets.
  3. The “giveaway” they get in return for that donation will often include coin mining malware that installs itself on the victim’s computer.
  4. In some instances, hackers are able to steal cryptocurrencies from the victim’s wallets outright.

The scheme is so common, it’s even caught the attention of the real Elon himself.

I want to know who is running the Etherium scambots! Mad skillz …

— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) July 8, 2018

Twitter decided to crack down on these scammers. Back in July, it started locking any accounts that used the display name “Elon Musk.” But the scammers are staying one step ahead of Twitter. Every day, they are finding new ways to stay ahead of the curve, sometimes with amusing results. The scammers’ latest ruse involves altering the Elon Musk avatar in bizarre (and hilarious) ways to circumvent Twitter’s algorithms, as Twitter user @vogon points out.

lmfao the ethereum scammers are using some sort of content-aware scale thing to mess up elon musk’s avatar a bit to keep from getting caught now

I’m dying pic.twitter.com/SFbFWpirkH

— fin FAANG foom (@vogon) October 5, 2018

Granted, we don’t actually know if Twitter is using algorithms like this to scan for duplicates and fake accounts. The scammers are likely trying to come out ahead, and preempt Twitter’s future actions. It also wouldn’t be in Twitter’s best interest to announce its actions to the world if it is scanning avatars for fake accounts.

Facebook tried something similar in December last year, catching fake accounts using facial recognition. Things didn’t go all that well — users accused the platform of using personal facial data without consent, and eventually Facebook admitted this technique was completely ineffective.

For now, it seems, the scammers are still kicking around. To find some, just (carefully) go through any replies to the real Elon Musk’s recent tweets.

Dissatisfied with Twitter’s ineffective ways to ban the scammers, Musk took matters into his own hands. As Coin Telegraph reports, he even asked Dogecoin creator Jackson Palmer to “help get rid of the annoying scam spammers.” Notably absent of this conversation: Twitter itself.

In truth, Ethereum scammers are small fish for Twitter, but it doesn’t seem to be able to get rid of them. How can a platform of a third of a billion users be trusted to delete misleading information if it can’t even address that?

This doesn’t bode well for the impending midterm elections. Once equipped with targeted misinformation and countless fake Twitter accounts, foreign forces such as the Russian Internet Research Agency will likely have an incredibly easy time spreading politically charged “fake news” on Twitter.

More on Twitter’s election problem: Explaining Its Decisions Isn’t Going To Make Twitter Better