JPMorgan Brings Amazons Alexa to Wall Street Trading Floors

  • Voice-activated assistant can now send reports from analysts
  • Other firms such as New York Life using it to help employees

“Alexa, ask JPMorgan what the price target for Apple is.”

It’s a request that JPMorgan Chase & Co. institutional clients can now get quickly answered through Amazon.com Inc.’s ubiquitous voice-activated assistant. The bank and the e-commerce giant have partnered to provide JPMorgan’s Wall Street users with another way to access its research. Alexa is able to send analysts’ reports and related queries, and the bank is testing other features, like providing prices on bonds or swaps, according to David Hudson, global head of markets execution for the New York-based bank.

Voice assistants are “clearly becoming something people are habituated to in their lives,” Hudson said. “It’s about taking information that’s somewhere in the bank, that someone has to generally go and look for, or which is time-consuming or requires authentication to get, and putting that to you in another channel.”

As clients’ habits evolve, firms have been finding ways to adapt popular retail technologies for the business world. While JPMorgan is one of the first to push the Alexa virtual assistant to institutional shops, other banks have been using the service in their consumer operations. And New York Life Insurance Co. is among financial companies building programs that use Alexa as a tool for employees.

12,000 Agents

Customers are becoming increasingly willing to use voice assistants to monitor accounts, according to a survey conducted last year by Bain & Co. While 6 percent of U.S. respondents now use the technology, 27 percent are open to it, according to the consultant.

Capital One Financial Corp. was the first bank to allow customers to manage credit card and bank accounts through the voice assistant, and the lender has slowly expanded its Alexa service, allowing people to ask questions like how much they spent on Amazon last week.

New York Life will start rolling out Alexa features to its 12,000 agents later this year to help them get quick details on policies and prepare for meetings, said Mark Madgett, who leads the insurer’s field force of agents. That means the agents can ask Alexa to figure out how much life insurance a customer has or the value of those policies, or to catch them up on the latest products the firm is offering, he said.

“This is a very complicated business,” Madgett said. “When I started 32 years ago, I had five products that I could help solve problems with. Today there are thousands of permutations around financial solutions.”

New ’Skill’

JPMorgan’s automated service, known in Amazon verbiage as a “skill,” is the latest shared project for the biggest U.S. bank and the world’s largest online retailer. Amazon already leases cloud-computing power to JPMorgan and has asked the bank to compete in creating new products including a small-business credit card for its customers. The companies are also collaborating on a health-care venture.

Read more: JPMorgan-Amazon health venture goes beyond squeezing middlemen

JPMorgan’s Alexa project started last year as part of an internal competition to foster innovation. The bank first opened up data in its research group and added feeds from other departments, including banking and custody and fund services — capabilities now being tested internally. If the automated service takes off, it should free the firm’s salespeople from having to answer routine queries.

JPMorgan has seen that clients are open to new ways of interacting with technology. Not long after the bank created mobile apps for its trading business, it was recording large trades, including a $400 million currency bet last year. So allowing Alexa users to access JPMorgan data from wherever they choose to work — home, office or on the go — makes sense.

The next step is enabling institutional clients to act on the information they’re getting. In the not-so-distant future, Wall Street traders could routinely use Alexa to execute trades, according to Hudson. But the bank needs to do more work on client authentication and other security measures to prevent errant trades before that happens, he said.

“In the open-office environment, if you leave an Alexa on your desk plugged into an Amazon account, you might find a TV delivered tomorrow as a practical joke,” Hudson said.

Read more: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-03-26/jpmorgan-brings-amazon-s-alexa-to-wall-street-trading-floors

I made Steve Bannons psychological warfare tool: meet the data war whistleblower

Christopher Wylie goes on the record to discuss his role in hijacking the profiles of millions of Facebook users in order to target the US electorate

The first time I met Christopher Wylie, he didnt yet have pink hair. That comes later. As does his mission to rewind time. To put the genie back in the bottle.

By the time I met him in person, Id already been talking to him on a daily basis for hours at a time. On the phone, he was clever, funny, bitchy, profound, intellectually ravenous, compelling. A master storyteller. A politicker. A data science nerd.

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Cambridge Analytica whistleblower: ‘We spent $1m harvesting millions of Facebook profiles’ video

Two months later, when he arrived in London from Canada, he was all those things in the flesh. And yet the flesh was impossibly young. He was 27 then (hes 28 now), a fact that has always seemed glaringly at odds with what he has done. He may have played a pivotal role in the momentous political upheavals of 2016. At the very least, he played a consequential role. At 24, he came up with an idea that led to the foundation of a company called Cambridge Analytica, a data analytics firm that went on to claim a major role in the Leave campaign for Britains EU membership referendum, and later became a key figure in digital operations during Donald Trumps election campaign.

Or, as Wylie describes it, he was the gay Canadian vegan who somehow ended up creating Steve Bannons psychological warfare mindfuck tool.

In 2014, Steve Bannon then executive chairman of the alt-right news network Breitbart was Wylies boss. And Robert Mercer, the secretive US hedge-fund billionaire and Republican donor, was Cambridge Analyticas investor. And the idea they bought into was to bring big data and social media to an established military methodology information operations then turn it on the US electorate.

It was Wylie who came up with that idea and oversaw its realisation. And it was Wylie who, last spring, became my source. In May 2017, I wrote an article headlined The great British Brexit robbery, which set out a skein of threads that linked Brexit to Trump to Russia. Wylie was one of a handful of individuals who provided the evidence behind it. I found him, via another Cambridge Analytica ex-employee, lying low in Canada: guilty, brooding, indignant, confused. I havent talked about this to anyone, he said at the time. And then he couldnt stop talking.

Explainer embed

By that time, Steve Bannon had become Trumps chief strategist. Cambridge Analyticas parent company, SCL, had won contracts with the US State Department and was pitching to the Pentagon, and Wylie was genuinely freaked out. Its insane, he told me one night. The company has created psychological profiles of 230 million Americans. And now they want to work with the Pentagon? Its like Nixon on steroids.

He ended up showing me a tranche of documents that laid out the secret workings behind Cambridge Analytica. And in the months following publication of my article in May,it was revealed that the company had reached out to WikiLeaks to help distribute Hillary Clintons stolen emails in 2016. And then we watched as it became a subject of special counsel Robert Muellers investigation into possible Russian collusion in the US election.

The Observer also received the first of three letters from Cambridge Analytica threatening to sue Guardian News and Media for defamation. We are still only just starting to understand the maelstrom of forces that came together to create the conditions for what Mueller confirmed last month was information warfare. But Wylie offers a unique, worms-eye view of the events of 2016. Of how Facebook was hijacked, repurposed to become a theatre of war: how it became a launchpad for what seems to be an extraordinary attack on the USs democratic process.

Wylie oversaw what may have been the first critical breach. Aged 24, while studying for a PhD in fashion trend forecasting, he came up with a plan to harvest the Facebook profiles of millions of people in the US, and to use their private and personal information to create sophisticated psychological and political profiles. And then target them with political ads designed to work on their particular psychological makeup.

We broke Facebook, he says.

And he did it on behalf of his new boss, Steve Bannon.

Is it fair to say you hacked Facebook? I ask him one night.

He hesitates. Ill point out that I assumed it was entirely legal and above board.

Last month, Facebooks UK director of policy, Simon Milner, told British MPs on a select committee inquiry into fake news, chaired by Conservative MP Damian Collins, that Cambridge Analytica did not have Facebook data. The official Hansard extract reads:

Christian Matheson (MP for Chester): Have you ever passed any user information over to Cambridge Analytica or any of its associated companies?

Simon Milner: No.

Matheson: But they do hold a large chunk of Facebooks user data, dont they?

Milner: No. They may have lots of data, but it will not be Facebook user data. It may be data about people who are on Facebook that they have gathered themselves, but it is not data that we have provided.

Alexander
Alexander Nix, Cambridge Analytica CEO. Photograph: The Washington Post/Getty Images

Two weeks later, on 27 February, as part of the same parliamentary inquiry, Rebecca Pow, MP for Taunton Deane, asked Cambridge Analyticas CEO, Alexander Nix: Does any of the data come from Facebook? Nix replied: We do not work with Facebook data and we do not have Facebook data.

And through it all, Wylie and I, plus a handful of editors and a small, international group of academics and researchers, have known that at least in 2014 that certainly wasnt the case, because Wylie has the paper trail. In our first phone call, he told me he had the receipts, invoices, emails, legal letters records that showed how, between June and August 2014, the profiles of more than 50 million Facebook users had been harvested. Most damning of all, he had a letter from Facebooks own lawyers admitting that Cambridge Analytica had acquired the data illegitimately.

Going public involves an enormous amount of risk. Wylie is breaking a non-disclosure agreement and risks being sued. He is breaking the confidence of Steve Bannon and Robert Mercer.

Its taken a rollercoaster of a year to help get Wylie to a place where its possible for him to finally come forward. A year in which Cambridge Analytica has been the subject of investigations on both sides of the Atlantic Robert Muellers in the US, and separate inquiries by the Electoral Commission and the Information Commissioners Office in the UK, both triggered in February 2017, after the Observers first article in this investigation.

It has been a year, too, in which Wylie has been trying his best to rewind to undo events that he set in motion. Earlier this month, he submitted a dossier of evidence to the Information Commissioners Office and the National Crime Agencys cybercrime unit. He is now in a position to go on the record: the data nerd who came in from the cold.

There are many points where this story could begin. One is in 2012, when Wylie was 21 and working for the Liberal Democrats in the UK, then in government as junior coalition partners. His career trajectory has been, like most aspects of his life so far, extraordinary, preposterous, implausible.

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Cambridge Analytica: the key players

Alexander Nix, CEO

An Old Etonian with a degree from Manchester University, Nix, 42, worked as a financial analyst in Mexico and the UK before joining SCL, a strategic communications firm, in 2003. From 2007 he took over the companys elections division, and claims to have worked on 260 campaigns globally. He set up Cambridge Analytica to work in America, with investment from RobertMercer.

Aleksandr Kogan, data miner

Aleksandr Kogan was born in Moldova and lived in Moscow until the age of seven, then moved with his family to the US, where he became a naturalised citizen. He studied at the University of California, Berkeley, and got his PhD at the University of Hong Kong before joining Cambridge as a lecturer in psychology and expert in social media psychometrics. He set up Global Science Research (GSR) to carry out CAs data research. While at Cambridge he accepted a position at St Petersburg State University, and also took Russian government grants for research. He changed his name to Spectre when he married, but later reverted to Kogan.

Steve Bannon, former board member

A former investment banker turned alt-right media svengali, Steve Bannon was boss at website Breitbart when he met Christopher Wylie and Nix and advised Robert Mercer to invest in political data research by setting up CA. In August 2016 he became Donald Trumps campaign CEO. Bannon encouraged the reality TV star to embrace the populist, economic nationalist agenda that would carry him into the White House. That earned Bannon the post of chief strategist to the president and for a while he was arguably the second most powerful man in America. By August 2017 his relationship with Trump had soured and he was out.

Robert Mercer, investor

Robert Mercer, 71, is a computer scientist and hedge fund billionaire, who used his fortune to become one of the most influential men in US politics as a top Republican donor. An AI expert, he made a fortune with quantitative trading pioneers Renaissance Technologies, then built a $60m war chest to back conservative causes by using an offshore investment vehicle to avoid US tax.

Rebekah Mercer, investor

Rebekah Mercer has a maths degree from Stanford, and worked as a trader, but her influence comes primarily from her fathers billions. The fortysomething, the second of Mercers three daughters, heads up the family foundation which channels money to rightwing groups. The conservative megadonors backed Breitbart, Bannon and, most influentially, poured millions into Trumps presidential campaign.

Wylie grew up in British Columbia and as a teenager he was diagnosed with ADHD and dyslexia. He left school at 16 without a single qualification. Yet at 17, he was working in the office of the leader of the Canadian opposition; at 18, he went to learn all things data from Obamas national director of targeting, which he then introduced to Canada for the Liberal party. At 19, he taught himself to code, and in 2010, age 20, he came to London to study law at the London School of Economics.

Politics is like the mob, though, he says. You never really leave. I got a call from the Lib Dems. They wanted to upgrade their databases and voter targeting. So, I combined working for them with studying for my degree.

Politics is also where he feels most comfortable. He hated school, but as an intern in the Canadian parliament he discovered a world where he could talk to adults and they would listen. He was the kid who did the internet stuff and within a year he was working for the leader of the opposition.

Hes one of the brightest people you will ever meet, a senior politician whos known Wylie since he was 20 told me. Sometimes thats a blessing and sometimes a curse.

Meanwhile, at Cambridge Universitys Psychometrics Centre, two psychologists, Michal Kosinski and David Stillwell, were experimenting with a way of studying personality by quantifying it.

Starting in 2007,Stillwell, while a student, had devised various apps for Facebook, one of which, a personality quiz called myPersonality, had gone viral. Users were scored on big five personality traits Openness, Conscientiousness, Extroversion, Agreeableness and Neuroticism and in exchange, 40% of them consented to give him access to their Facebook profiles. Suddenly, there was a way of measuring personality traits across the population and correlating scores against Facebook likes across millions of people.

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Examples, above and below, of the visual messages trialled by GSRs online profiling test. Respondents were asked: How important should this message be to all Americans?

The research was original, groundbreaking and had obvious possibilities. They had a lot of approaches from the security services, a member of the centre told me. There was one called You Are What You Like and it was demonstrated to the intelligence services. And it showed these odd patterns; that, for example, people who liked I hate Israel on Facebook also tended to like Nike shoes and KitKats.

There are agencies that fund research on behalf of the intelligence services. And they were all over this research. That one was nicknamed Operation KitKat.

The defence and military establishment were the first to see the potential of the research. Boeing, a major US defence contractor, funded Kosinskis PhD and Darpa, the US governments secretive Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, is cited in at least two academic papers supporting Kosinskis work.

But when, in 2013, the first major paper was published, others saw this potential too, including Wylie. He had finished his degree and had started his PhD in fashion forecasting, and was thinking about the Lib Dems. It is fair to say that he didnt have a clue what he was walking into.

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I wanted to know why the Lib Dems sucked at winning elections when they used to run the country up to the end of the 19th century, Wylie explains. And I began looking at consumer and demographic data to see what united Lib Dem voters, because apart from bits of Wales and the Shetlands its weird, disparate regions. And what I found is there were no strong correlations. There was no signal in the data.

And then I came across a paper about how personality traits could be a precursor to political behaviour, and it suddenly made sense. Liberalism is correlated with high openness and low conscientiousness, and when you think of Lib Dems theyre absent-minded professors and hippies. Theyre the early adopters theyre highly open to new ideas. And it just clicked all of a sudden.

Here was a way for the party to identify potential new voters. The only problem was that the Lib Dems werent interested.

I did this presentation at which I told them they would lose half their 57 seats, and they were like: Why are you so pessimistic? They actually lost all but eight of their seats, FYI.

Another Lib Dem connection introduced Wylie to a company called SCL Group, one of whose subsidiaries, SCL Elections, would go on to create Cambridge Analytica (an incorporated venture between SCL Elections and Robert Mercer, funded by the latter). For all intents and purposes, SCL/Cambridge Analytica are one and the same.

Alexander Nix, then CEO of SCL Elections, made Wylie an offer he couldnt resist. He said: Well give you total freedom. Experiment. Come and test out all your crazy ideas.

An
Another example of the visual messages trialled by GSRs online profiling test.

In the history of bad ideas, this turned out to be one of the worst. The job was research director across the SCL group, a private contractor that has both defence and elections operations. Its defence arm was a contractor to the UKs Ministry of Defence and the USs Department of Defense, among others. Its expertise was in psychological operations or psyops changing peoples minds not through persuasion but through informational dominance, a set of techniques that includes rumour, disinformation and fake news.

SCL Elections had used a similar suite of tools in more than 200 elections around the world, mostly in undeveloped democracies that Wylie would come to realise were unequipped to defend themselves.

Wylie holds a British Tier 1 Exceptional Talent visa a UK work visa given to just 200 people a year. He was working inside government (with the Lib Dems) as a political strategist with advanced data science skills. But no one, least of all him, could have predicted what came next. When he turned up at SCLs offices in Mayfair, he had no clue that he was walking into the middle of a nexus of defence and intelligence projects, private contractors and cutting-edge cyberweaponry.

The thing I think about all the time is, what if Id taken a job at Deloitte instead? They offered me one. I just think if Id taken literally any other job, Cambridge Analytica wouldnt exist. You have no idea how much I brood on this.

A few months later, in autumn 2013, Wylie met Steve Bannon. At the time, he was editor-in-chief of Breitbart, which he had brought to Britain to support his friend Nigel Farage in his mission to take Britain out of the European Union.

What was he like?

Smart, says Wylie. Interesting. Really interested in ideas. Hes the only straight man Ive ever talked to about intersectional feminist theory. He saw its relevance straightaway to the oppressions that conservative, young white men feel.

Wylie meeting Bannon was the moment petrol was poured on a flickering flame. Wylie lives for ideas. He speaks 19 to the dozen for hours at a time. He had a theory to prove. And at the time, this was a purely intellectual problem. Politics was like fashion, he told Bannon.

[Bannon] got it immediately. He believes in the whole Andrew Breitbart doctrine that politics is downstream from culture, so to change politics you need to change culture. And fashion trends are a useful proxy for that. Trump is like a pair of Uggs, or Crocs, basically. So how do you get from people thinking Ugh. Totally ugly to the moment when everyone is wearing them? That was the inflection point he was looking for.

But Wylie wasnt just talking about fashion. He had recently been exposed to a new discipline: information operations, which ranks alongside land, sea, air and space in the US militarys doctrine of the five-dimensional battle space. His brief ranged across the SCL Group the British government has paid SCL to conduct counter-extremism operations in the Middle East, and the US Department of Defense has contracted it to work in Afghanistan.

I tell him that another former employee described the firm as MI6 for hire, and Id never quite understood it.

Its like dirty MI6 because youre not constrained. Theres no having to go to a judge to apply for permission. Its normal for a market research company to amass data on domestic populations. And if youre working in some country and theres an auxiliary benefit to a current client with aligned interests, well thats just a bonus.

When I ask how Bannon even found SCL, Wylie tells me what sounds like a tall tale, though its one he can back up with an email about how Mark Block, a veteran Republican strategist, happened to sit next to a cyberwarfare expert for the US air force on a plane. And the cyberwarfare guy is like, Oh, you should meet SCL. They do cyberwarfare for elections.

U.S.
Steve Bannon: He loved the gays, says Wylie. He saw us as early adopters. Photograph: Tony Gentile/Reuters

It was Bannon who took this idea to the Mercers: Robert Mercer the co-CEO of the hedge fund Renaissance Technologies, who used his billions to pursue a rightwing agenda, donating to Republican causes and supporting Republican candidates and his daughter Rebekah.

Nix and Wylie flew to New York to meet the Mercers in Rebekahs Manhattan apartment.

She loved me. She was like, Oh we need more of your type on our side!

Your type?

The gays. She loved the gays. So did Steve [Bannon]. He saw us as early adopters. He figured, if you can get the gays on board, everyone else will follow. Its why he was so into the whole Milo [Yiannopoulos] thing.

Robert Mercer was a pioneer in AI and machine translation. He helped invent algorithmic trading which replaced hedge fund managers with computer programs and he listened to Wylies pitch. It was for a new kind of political message-targeting based on an influential and groundbreaking 2014 paper researched at Cambridges Psychometrics Centre, called: Computer-based personality judgments are more accurate than those made by humans.

In politics, the money man is usually the dumbest person in the room. Whereas its the opposite way around with Mercer, says Wylie. He said very little, but he really listened. He wanted to understand the science. And he wanted proof that it worked.

And to do that, Wylie needed data.

How Cambridge Analytica acquired the data has been the subject of internal reviews at Cambridge University, of many news articles and much speculation and rumour.

When Nix was interviewed by MPs last month, Damian Collins asked him:

Does any of your data come from Global Science Research company?

Nix: GSR?

Collins: Yes.

Nix: We had a relationship with GSR. They did some research for us back in 2014. That research proved to be fruitless and so the answer is no.

Collins: They have not supplied you with data or information?

Nix: No.

Collins: Your datasets are not based on information you have received from them?

Nix: No.

Collins: At all?

Nix: At all.

The problem with Nixs response to Collins is that Wylie has a copy of an executed contract, dated 4 June 2014, which confirms that SCL, the parent company of Cambridge Analytica, entered into a commercial arrangement with a company called Global Science Research (GSR), owned by Cambridge-based academic Aleksandr Kogan, specifically premised on the harvesting and processing of Facebook data, so that it could be matched to personality traits and voter rolls.

He has receipts showing that Cambridge Analytica spent $7m to amass this data, about $1m of it with GSR. He has the bank records and wire transfers. Emails reveal Wylie first negotiated with Michal Kosinski, one of the co-authors of the original myPersonality research paper, to use the myPersonality database. But when negotiations broke down, another psychologist, Aleksandr Kogan, offered a solution that many of his colleagues considered unethical. He offered to replicate Kosinski and Stilwells research and cut them out of the deal. For Wylie it seemed a perfect solution. Kosinski was asking for $500,000 for the IP but Kogan said he could replicate it and just harvest his own set of data. (Kosinski says the fee was to fund further research.)

Dr
An unethical solution? Dr Aleksandr Kogan Photograph: alex kogan

Kogan then set up GSR to do the work, and proposed to Wylie they use the data to set up an interdisciplinary institute working across the social sciences. What happened to that idea, I ask Wylie. It never happened. I dont know why. Thats one of the things that upsets me the most.

It was Bannons interest in culture as war that ignited Wylies intellectual concept. But it was Robert Mercers millions that created a firestorm. Kogan was able to throw money at the hard problem of acquiring personal data: he advertised for people who were willing to be paid to take a personality quiz on Amazons Mechanical Turk and Qualtrics. At the end of which Kogans app, called thisismydigitallife, gave him permission to access their Facebook profiles. And not just theirs, but their friends too. On average, each seeder the people who had taken the personality test, around 320,000 in total unwittingly gave access to at least 160 other peoples profiles, none of whom would have known or had reason to suspect.

What the email correspondence between Cambridge Analytica employees and Kogan shows is that Kogan had collected millions of profiles in a matter of weeks. But neither Wylie nor anyone else at Cambridge Analytica had checked that it was legal. It certainly wasnt authorised. Kogan did have permission to pull Facebook data, but for academic purposes only. Whats more, under British data protection laws, its illegal for personal data to be sold to a third party without consent.

Facebook could see it was happening, says Wylie. Their security protocols were triggered because Kogans apps were pulling this enormous amount of data, but apparently Kogan told them it was for academic use. So they were like, Fine.

Kogan maintains that everything he did was legal and he had a close working relationship with Facebook, which had granted him permission for his apps.

Cambridge Analytica had its data. This was the foundation of everything it did next how it extracted psychological insights from the seeders and then built an algorithm to profile millions more.

For more than a year, the reporting around what Cambridge Analytica did or didnt do for Trump has revolved around the question of psychographics, but Wylie points out: Everything was built on the back of that data. The models, the algorithm. Everything. Why wouldnt you use it in your biggest campaign ever?

In December 2015, the Guardians Harry Davies published the first report about Cambridge Analytica acquiring Facebook data and using it to support Ted Cruz in his campaign to be the US Republican candidate. But it wasnt until many months later that Facebook took action. And then, all they did was write a letter. In August 2016, shortly before the US election, and two years after the breach took place, Facebooks lawyers wrote to Wylie, who left Cambridge Analytica in 2014, and told him the data had been illicitly obtained and that GSR was not authorised to share or sell it. They said it must be deleted immediately.

Christopher
Christopher Wylie: Its like Nixon on steroids

I already had. But literally all I had to do was tick a box and sign it and send it back, and that was it, says Wylie. Facebook made zero effort to get the data back.

There were multiple copies of it. It had been emailed in unencrypted files.

Cambridge Analytica rejected all allegations the Observer put to them.

Dr Kogan who later changed his name to Dr Spectre, but has subsequently changed it back to Dr Kogan is still a faculty member at Cambridge University, a senior research associate. But what his fellow academics didnt know until Kogan revealed it in emails to the Observer (although Cambridge University says that Kogan told the head of the psychology department), is that he is also an associate professor at St Petersburg University. Further research revealed that hes received grants from the Russian government to research Stress, health and psychological wellbeing in social networks. The opportunity came about on a trip to the city to visit friends and family, he said.

There are other dramatic documents in Wylies stash, including a pitch made by Cambridge Analytica to Lukoil, Russias second biggest oil producer. In an email dated 17 July 2014, about the US presidential primaries, Nix wrote to Wylie: We have been asked to write a memo to Lukoil (the Russian oil and gas company) to explain to them how our services are going to apply to the petroleum business. Nix said that they understand behavioural microtargeting in the context of elections but that they were failing to make the connection between voters and their consumers. The work, he said, would be shared with the CEO of the business, a former Soviet oil minister and associate of Putin, Vagit Alekperov.

It didnt make any sense to me, says Wylie. I didnt understand either the email or the pitch presentation we did. Why would a Russian oil company want to target information on American voters?

Muellers investigation traces the first stages of the Russian operation to disrupt the 2016 US election back to 2014, when the Russian state made what appears to be its first concerted efforts to harness the power of Americas social media platforms, including Facebook. And it was in late summer of the same year that Cambridge Analytica presented the Russian oil company with an outline of its datasets, capabilities and methodology. The presentation had little to do with consumers. Instead, documents show it focused on election disruption techniques. The first slide illustrates how a rumour campaign spread fear in the 2007 Nigerian election in which the company worked by spreading the idea that the election would be rigged. The final slide, branded with Lukoils logo and that of SCL Group and SCL Elections, headlines its deliverables: psychographic messaging.

https://www.theguardian.com/news/2018/mar/17/data-war-whistleblower-christopher-wylie-faceook-nix-bannon-trump

Apples New Spaceship Campus Has One Flaw and It Hurts

The centerpiece of Apple Inc.’s new headquarters is a massive, ring-shaped office overflowing with panes of glass, a testament to the company’s famed design-obsessed aesthetic. 

There’s been one hiccup since it opened last year: Apple employees keep smacking into the glass.

Surrounding the building, located in Cupertino, California, are 45-foot tall curved panels of safety glass. Inside are work spaces, dubbed “pods,” also made with a lot of glass. Apple staff are often glued to the iPhones they helped popularize. That’s resulted in repeated cases of distracted employees walking into the panes, according to people familiar with the incidents. 

Some staff started to stick Post-It notes on the glass doors to mark their presence. However, the notes were removed because they detracted from the building’s design, the people said. They asked not to be identified discussing anything related to Apple. Another person familiar with the situation said there are other markings to identify the glass. 

Apple’s latest campus has been lauded as an architectural marvel. The building, crafted by famed architect Norman Foster, immortalized a vision that Apple co-founder Steve Jobs had years earlier. In 2011, Jobs reportedly described the building “a little like a spaceship landed.” Jobs has been credited for coming up with the glass pods, designed to mix solo office areas with more social spaces. 

Apple campus in Cupertino.
Photographer: Jim Wilson/New York Times via Redux

The building is designed to house some 13,000 employees. Wired magazine, first to pay a visit at its opening last year, described the structure as a “statement of openness, of free movement,” in contrast to Apple’s typically insular culture. “While it is a technical marvel to make glass at this scale, that’s not the achievement,” Jony Ive, Apple’s design chief, told the magazine in May. “The achievement is to make a building where so many people can connect and collaborate and walk and talk.”

An Apple spokeswoman declined to comment. It’s not clear how many incidents there have been. A Silicon Valley-based spokeswoman for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration referred questions about Apple’s workplace safety record to the government agency’s website. A search on the site based on Apple’s name in California found no reports of injuries at the company’s new campus. 

It’s not the first time Apple’s penchant for glass in buildings has caused problems. In late 2011, 83-year-old Evelyn Paswall walked into the glass wall of an Apple store, breaking her nose. She sued the company, arguing it should have posted a warning on the glass. The suit was settled without any cost to Apple, according to a legal filing in early 2013. 

    Read more: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-02-16/apple-s-new-spaceship-campus-has-one-flaw-and-it-hurts

    Phone-addicted teens arent as happy as those who play sports and hang out IRL, new study suggests

    To no parent’s surprise, too much smartphone use makes teens unhappy.

    So says a new study from San Diego State University, which pulled data from over one million 8th-, 10th-, and 12th-graders in the U.S. showing teens who spent more time on social media, gaming, texting and video-chatting on their phones were not as happy as those who played sports, went outside and interacted with real human beings.

    But is it the screen time bringing them down or are sadder teens more likely to insulate themselves in a virtual world? Lead author of the study and professor of psychology Jean M. Twenge believes it’s the phone that contributes to making them unhappy, not the other way around.

    “Although this study can’t show causation, several other studies have shown that more social media use leads to unhappiness, but unhappiness does not lead to more social media use,” Twenge said.

    Though abstinence doesn’t seem to fix the problem, either, as noted in the study, there’s something to Twenge’s theory. Another recent study by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and also lead by Twenge, found a spike in depression and suicide among teen girls increased the more time they spent on their phones.

    That’s alarming, especially considering the age in which kids get smartphones has continued to climb lower — dropping from 12 in 2012 to 10.3 years in 2016.

    Twenge has been studying teen behavior since the early 90’s and has been on the forefront of research suggesting an abrupt change in behavior and emotional states of teenagers due to smartphone use. She says there’s been a dramatic shift starting in 2012 when younger and younger kids starting getting more screen time.

    Researchers found more of the same while sifting through the data for this study. Teenagers’ life satisfaction, self-esteem and happiness plummeted after 2012.

    To back up that work, Twenge’s previous studies suggest kids who spend at least four or five hours on their phone increase their risk factor for suicide by a whopping 71 percent, regardless of whether it was cat videos or something else. It was the time spent on the device, not the content, that mattered most.

    “By far the largest change in teens’ lives between 2012 and 2016 was the increase in the amount of time they spent on digital media, and the subsequent decline in in-person social activities and sleep,” Twenge said. “The key to digital media use and happiness is limited use.”

    She suggests teens aim to spend no more than two hours a day on digital media, exercise more and try to hang out with friends face-to-face to increase happiness — all things adults could probably use more of as well.

    Read more: https://techcrunch.com/2018/01/23/phone-addicted-teens-arent-as-happy-as-those-who-play-sports-and-hang-out-irl-new-study-suggests/

    Spinal-Cord Implants to Numb Pain Emerge as Alternative to Pills

    For millions of Americans suffering from debilitating nerve pain, a once-overlooked option has emerged as an alternative to high doses of opioids: implanted medical devices using electricity to counteract pain signals the same way noise-canceling headphones work against sound. 

    The approach, called neuromodulation, has been a godsend for Linda Landy, who was a 42-year-old runner when a foot surgery went awry in 2008. She was diagnosed with complex regional pain syndrome, a condition dubbed the suicide disease by doctors: The pain is so unrelenting that many people take their own lives.

    Linda Landy and family

    Last November, Landy underwent surgery to get an Abbott Laboratories device that stimulates the dorsal root ganglion, a spot in the spine that was the pain conduit for her damaged nerves. A year after getting her implant, called DRG, she’s cut back drastically on pain pills.

    “The DRG doesn’t take the pain completely away, but it changes it into something I can live with,” said Landy, a mother of three in Fort Worth, Texas. She’s now now able to walk again and travel by plane without using a wheelchair. “It sounds minor, but it’s really huge.”

    Crackdown on Opioids

    Recent innovations from global device makers like Abbott to smaller specialists such as Nevro Corp. made the implants more powerful and effective. Combined with a national crackdown on narcotics and wanton pain pill prescriptions, they are spurring demand for implants.

    The market may double to $4 billion in 10 years, up from about $1.8 billion in the U.S. and $500 million in Europe today, according to health-care research firm Decisions Resources Group.

    “There was a big stigma around this when it first came out,” said Paul Desormeaux, a Decisions Resources analyst in Toronto. “The idea of sending an electrical signal through your nervous system was a little daunting, but as clinical data has come out and physicians have been able to prove its safety, there has been a big change in the general attitude.”

    Read More: Millions Face Pain, Withdrawal as Opioid Prescriptions Plummet

    At least 50 million adults in the U.S. suffer from chronic pain, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Only a fraction of them would benefit from spinal-cord stimulation — about 3.6 million, according to Decisions Resources — but those are patients who are often given the highest doses of narcotics. They include people with nerve damage stemming from conditions like diabetic neuropathy and shingles, as well as surgeries.

    “There is no question we are reducing the risk of opioid dependence by implanting these devices,” said Timothy Deer, president of the Spine and Nerve Centers of the Virginias in Charleston, West Virginia, a hotbed of the opioid epidemic. “If we get someone before they are placed on opioids, 95 percent of the time we can reduce their need to ever go on them.”

    Studies show spinal-cord stimulators can reduce use of powerful pain drugs by 60 percent or more, said Deer, a clinical professor of anesthesiology.

    Read More: Tangled Incentives Push Drugmakers Away From an Opioid Solution

    Technology breakthroughs that are just now reaching patients came from a better understanding of how pain signals are transmitted within the spinal cord, the main thoroughfare between the command center in the brain and the body.

    For some chronic pain patients, the spinal cord runs too efficiently, speeding signs of distress. Stimulators send their own pulses of electrical activity to offset or interrupt the pain zinging along the nerve fibers. They have been available for more than three decades, but until recently their invasive nature, potential safety risks and cost limited demand.

    Market Leader Abbott

    Illinois-based Abbott, with its $29 billion acquisition of St. Jude Medical this year, took the market lead with advances that allow it to target specific nerves and tailor the treatment. Nevro, of Redwood City, California, has rolled out improvement to its Senza system, a best-in-class approach that is safe while getting an MRI and operates without the tingling that often accompanies spinal-cord stimulation.

    In the latest devices, which cost $30,000 or more, codes that are running the electrical pulses are more sophisticated. The frequency, rate and amplitude can be adjusted, often by the patients, which allows personalized therapy. 

    The new implants are also smaller: The surgery is generally an outpatient procedure with minimal post-operative pain and a short recovery. They have longer battery life, reducing the need for replacement. And patients can try out a non-invasive version of the equipment before getting a permanent implant.

    “This is really a defining moment in what we can do to impact the lives of people who suffer from chronic pain,” said Allen Burton, Abbott’s medical director of neuromodulation. “We can dampen the chronic pain signal and give patients their lives back.”

    Medtronic Plc, which pioneered the technique but ceded the lead in recent years, is now working on next-generation devices. The company recently gained approval for the smallest pain-management implant, Intellis. In development are devices that can detect pain waves and adjust automatically, said Geoff Martha, executive vice president of Medtronic’s restorative therapies group.

    “A self-correcting central nervous system — that’s the panacea. That’s the ultimate goal,” Martha said. “It could take a huge bite out of the opioid problem.”

      Read more: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-12-26/spinal-cord-implants-to-numb-pain-emerge-as-alternative-to-pills

      As Bitcoin Sinks, Crypto Bros Party Hard on a Blockchain Cruise

      When 600 cryptocurrency enthusiasts set sail from Singapore on Monday night for their second annual Blockchain Cruise, the price of Bitcoin was hovering comfortably above $13,500.

      By the time their 1,020-foot-long ship pulled into Thailand on Wednesday, for an afternoon of bottomless drinks and crypto-focused talks on a sun-soaked private beach, Bitcoin had cratered to $10,000.

      The group of mostly young men, many of whom became wildly rich — at least on paper — as Bitcoin and other digital tokens skyrocketed last year, had in all likelihood just lost millions.

      But if anyone was fazed, they didn’t show it. The party rolled on as the sangria and Red Bull flowed, Bitcoin-themed rap music blared and drones filmed it all from above.

      “Nothing goes up in a straight line,” explained Ronnie Moas, the founder of Miami Beach-based Standpoint Research, who was one of the event’s speakers on Wednesday. In a best-case scenario, he said, Bitcoin could jump to $300,000 in as little as seven years.

      For skeptics of the crypto craze, it’s hard not to see all this as another sign of runaway exuberance — a repeat of the boosterish Las Vegas securitization conference, immortalized in The Big Short, that preceded the subprime mortgage meltdown of 2007. But the steadfast optimism on display at this week’s Blockchain Cruise also carries a warning for anyone betting on a cryptocurrency crash: It’s going to take more than a 50 percent drop in Bitcoin from its Dec. 18 high to drive out the diehards.

      “This is something that you either believe in or not,” said Moas, who has become a crypto-celebrity after issuing stratospheric price forecasts for Bitcoin.

      The cruise’s eclectic list of speakers included Jose Gomez, a former aide to the late Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez; Kaspar Korjus, the head of Estonia’s e-residency program (which may issue its own cryptocurrency); and Jorg Molt, an early digital currency backer whose claim to hold 250,000 Bitcoins (worth $2.8 billion at the current price) couldn’t be verified.

      But perhaps the biggest draw was John McAfee, the anti-virus software pioneer with a checkered past. In 2012, while living in Belize, McAfee had run-ins with local police for alleged unlicensed drug manufacturing and weapons possession, but was released without charge. At one point, Belize police started a search for him as a person of interest in connection with the murder of his neighbor. McAfee said he was innocent and that he fled Belize because of persecution by corrupt officials.

      He now helps run MGT Capital Investments Inc., a small-cap tech company with a Bitcoin mining business. He has become a cryptocurrency evangelist on Twitter, touting the technology and various tokens to his more than 700,000 followers. Coinsbank, the digital currency exchange and wallet operator that organized the cruise, made him a headline speaker.

      On Wednesday, McAfee blamed the recent market slump on unfounded fear of government intervention. He urged cryptocurrency holders — one of whom sported a “Buy The Dip” t-shirt — to stick with their bets.

      Read more: Bitcoin Fall Extends to 25% as Fears of Crypto Crackdown Linger

      “You cannot force a ban on a distributed system,” McAfee said in an interview after his speech. “It’s like how do you ban smoking weed? You can’t ban it. People will come back.”

      Not every conversation on the Blockchain Cruise revolved around cryptocurrencies. Attendees, unsurprisingly, had plenty to say about blockchain — the distributed ledger technology that underpins Bitcoin — and its potential to improve industries from finance to health care.

      Charity was also a topic raised by speakers including Moas, who urged the audience to donate some of their newfound wealth and help reduce global inequality.

      Many attendees have far more than they need.

      Rowan Hill, a former coal miner in Australia, said he retired by 26 after getting in on the crypto boom early. After the cruise, he’s heading to Japan for a four-week snowboarding trip.

      “A lot of people can’t stand the price swings” in digital currencies, Hill said, donning a fedora and sunglasses as he lounged on the beach. “The average person just sells, and they lose out.”

      Joe Stone, an Australian who invests in digital assets, said market declines are easier to bear in the company of fellow enthusiasts. For many on the cruise, the next stop is another cryptocurrency conference in Bangkok.

      “There’s nowhere I’d rather be,” said Stone, after a late night of mingling at the ship’s cigar bar over whiskeys. “Otherwise I’d just be at my computer.”

      For more on cryptocurrencies, check out the   podcast:

        Read more: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-01-19/as-bitcoin-sinks-crypto-bros-party-hard-on-a-blockchain-cruise

        Heres How the 20 Contenders for Amazon HQ2 Stack Up

        Now that Amazon.com Inc. has whittled down the list of cities it’s considering for its second North American headquarters, it’s time for a new round of everyone’s favorite parlor game: arguing about which city would suit the technology giant best.

        After the e-commerce company said it was seeking a second HQ to relieve pressure on its Seattle home base, it received proposals from 238 locations, full of rich economic incentives and goofy marketing gimmicks.

        Now it has narrowed the field to 20 places, including three bids from the Washington D.C., area, where Amazon Chief Executive Jeff Bezos has put down roots, as well as proposals from smaller Midwestern cities (Columbus, Ohio; Indianapolis) and major population centers (New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Toronto and Dallas).

        Economic incentives aside — and there are plenty — here are some pros and cons of the places on Amazon’s very long shortlist.

        Atlanta

        Pros: A major airline hub and home to big corporations, such as UPS, Coca-Cola and Delta. A recent focus on redevelopment projects like the BeltLine — a series of parks built on an old railroad spur that runs through the city — may add to the city’s appeal.

        Cons: It’s still not that cool. Amazon prides itself on its urban Seattle locations being walkable and bikable, and a more suburban city like Atlanta may contradict that spirit. Terrible traffic, too.

        Austin

        Pros: Close to the distribution and business hub of Dallas but much hipper. No Texas income tax, an established tech industry and home to Whole Foods, which Amazon recently acquired.

        Cons: Small airport. Despite surging population, still doesn’t feel like a major U.S. city. 

        Boston

        Pros: Proximity to Harvard, MIT and a wealth of other colleges and universities, an airport with nonstop flights to Seattle and Washington, D.C., and a track record for providing rich relocation benefits, like the incentives the city offered GE in 2015.

        Cons: Has some of the same drawbacks as New York—high cost of living, tight residential and commercial real estate markets—without the same cultural amenities and depth of talent. 

        Chicago

        Pros: A heavy concentration of operations, marketing, finance and sales employees to poach from other industries. Good public transit, walkable neighborhoods and a variety of housing choices, from downtown apartments to traditional suburbs. 

        Cons: Shootings in the city have become national news, and the state is still emerging from dire financial straits. Digging its government out of debt could require tax hikes and cuts to public services. 

        Columbus

        Pros: A major research university in Ohio State, a fast-growing economy and cheap housing.

        Cons: The housing is cheap for a reason.

        Dallas

        Pros: Has been a magnet for corporate relocations in the last two decades, offering high quality of life and access to a deep pool of workers. There’s no state income tax, and unlike Austin, it’s a major city and an airline hub.

        Cons: Dallas suburbs may seem pretty stodgy to Amazon employees used to the cultural amenities in downtown Seattle. 

        Denver

        Pros: Denver is already popular with tech companies. Colorado boasts strong engineering schools and trounces the other finalists when it comes to close proximity to fresh powder. Fresh, and legal, pot, too, for those who partake.

        Cons: The exodus of workers to Denver’s burgeoning tech hub has already stretched the local housing market. Doesn’t offer a lot of geographic diversity from Seattle.

        Indianapolis

        Pros: Tech company salaries would go far in the heartland, and choosing Indianapolis would make Amazon arguably the most important employer in middle America.

        Cons: The sheer of size of the Amazon HQ could swamp the city’s residential and commercial real estate markets. As in Columbus, the cheap housing here isn’t a mystery. 

        Los Angeles

        Pros: The tech giant’s Amazon Studios division—quickly becoming a force in Hollywood, with original streaming TV series such as “Transparent” and “Man in the High Castle”—is based in Santa Monica.

        Cons: It’s an expensive place to live, a hard place to build in and, like Denver, it doesn’t offer a lot of geographic diversity from Seattle.

        Miami

        Pros: The Seattle workforce could use a little sun. Bezos, currently the richest man in the world, attended Miami Palmetto Senior High School.

        Cons: Lacks an existing tech ecosystem, has high housing costs and might be under water at some point.

        Montgomery County

        Pros: This Maryland county is one of three bids in or near the District of Columbia to land on the shortlist. Bezos has put down roots in the area with his acquisitions of the Washington Post and the city’s largest private home.

        Cons: Commercial real estate is probably more available here than in the U.S. capital, but the trade-off is asking the company’s workforce to work in the ’burbs.

        Nashville

        Pros: Good universities, no Tennessee income tax and fame as the country music capital of the world have already made the city popular with major employers.

        Cons: Like Austin and Denver, the city has already succeeded in convincing companies to relocate, and the local housing market has struggled to keep up with the flood of new workers.

        Newark

        Pros: Proximity to New York without the Big Apple’s staggering home prices. In October, then-New Jersey Governor Chris Christie pledged to back the city’s bid to lure Amazon with as much as $7 billion in tax breaks. 

        Cons: The city might be a tough sell for workers over San Francisco, Los Angeles or New York.

        New York

        Pros: Locating in New York would give Amazon access to the world’s top pool of finance and media talent and a growing tech scene.

        Cons: Housing prices are already high, one of the reasons locals in Seattle are pushing back against the company’s expansion there. There’s also limited space for new office construction.

        Northern Virginia

        Pros: Like Washington, D.C., and Montgomery County, Northern Virginia offers an educated workforce and proximity to both the federal government and the Washington Post. Commercial real estate is easier to come by than in the District of Columbia.

        Cons: The area isn’t as strong on urban appeal as some of the other contenders.

        Philadelphia

        Pros: Good transit, large population, and it’s close to New York and Washington, with much lower housing costs.

        Cons: Amazon would have to convince workers in those two cities that giving up cultural amenities for cheaper housing is a trade worth making.

        Pittsburgh

        Pros: Home to top AI and robotics university Carnegie Mellon, which have already drawn top tech companies like Google and Uber. Close to major distribution hubs in the middle of the country.

        Cons: It’s far from other major cities and tech hubs.

        Raleigh

        Pros: Part of an existing tech hub; offers cheap housing, good quality of life and the chance for Amazon to put its stamp on a city in a way that it couldn’t in more established metros.

        Cons: Clashes over gender identity and other hot political issues suggest North Carolina is still struggling over its own identity.

        Toronto

        Pros: A major financial and technology hub and a population that would put it among the top 10 U.S. metropolitan areas. Potentially easier to hire people from abroad because of a more open tone on immigration from the government than in the U.S.

        Cons: Housing prices are high compared to cities like Atlanta. The city also doesn’t have much space for housing and commercial development required for HQ2 in the downtown core. Moving integral operations north of the border holds political risks in dealing with the Trump administration.

        Washington, D.C.

        Pros: A strong technology workforce and proximity to lawmakers and regulators. Bezos put down roots in the area with his 2013 acquisition of the Washington Post.

        Cons: Lack of space and zoning restrictions could make it hard to find enough office space. Sticking the headquarters in the ’burbs would make it easier to find land but harder to appeal to workers. And you don’t get a U.S. senator to fight for you on the Hill.

          Read more: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-01-18/amazon-ignites-fight-for-hq2-here-s-how-20-contenders-stack-up

          The White House and Equifax Agree: Social Security Numbers Should Go

          The Trump administration is exploring ways to replace the use of Social Security numbers as the main method of assuring people’s identities in the wake of consumer credit agency Equifax Inc.’s massive data breach.

          The administration has called on federal departments and agencies to look into the vulnerabilities of employing the identifier tied to retirement benefits, as well as how to replace the existing system, according to Rob Joyce, special assistant to the president and White House cybersecurity coordinator.

          “I feel very strongly that the Social Security number has outlived its usefulness,” Joyce said Tuesday at a cyber conference in Washington organized by the Washington Post. “Every time we use the Social Security number, you put it at risk.”

          Joyce’s comments came as former Equifax CEO Richard Smith testified before the House Energy and Commerce Committee, the first of four hearings this week on Capitol Hill. Lawmakers from both parties expressed outrage over the size of the breach as well as the company’s response and grilled Smith on the timeline of the incident, including when top executives learned about it.

          Smith said the rising number of hacks involving Social Security numbers have eroded its security value.

          “The concept of a Social Security number in this environment being private and secure — I think it’s time as a country to think beyond that,” Smith said. “What is a better way to identify consumers in our country in a very secure way? I think that way is something different than an SSN, a date of birth and a name.”

          Joyce said officials are looking into “what would be a better system” that utilizes the latest technologies, including a “modern cryptographic identifier,” such as public and private keys.

          Read more: Five Data-Security Ideas Brought Up During the Equifax Hearing

          ‘Flawed System’

          “It’s a flawed system that we can’t roll back that risk after we know we’ve had a compromise,” he said. “I personally know my Social Security number has been compromised at least four times in my lifetime. That’s just untenable.”

          Joseph Lorenzo Hall, chief technologist at the Center for Democracy and Technology in Washington, said one possibility could be giving individuals a private key, essentially a long cryptographic number that’s embedded in a “physical token” that then requires users to verify that the number belongs to them. It could work like the chip in a credit card that requires the owner to enter a pin allowing use. He pointed to Estonia where they have deployed such cards that people use to validate their identity.

          “Your pin unlocks your ability to use that big number,” he said. The challenge is how to create the identifiers and how to distribute the keys. “It’s very promising” and “it’s possible to technically design something like this” but it could be expensive to design and disseminate such material to each American, he said. “This is a pretty big endeavor.”

          The administration is also participating in discussions Congress is having about the requirements of protecting personal data and breach notifications for companies.

          Avoiding Balkanization

          “It’s really clear, there needs to be a change, but we’ll have to look at the details of what’s being proposed,” Joyce said. In the response to the Equifax hack, though, he said, “we need to be careful of Balkanizing the regulations. It’s really hard on companies today” facing local, state and federal regulators as well as international rules, he added.

          The U.S. government began issuing Social Security numbers in 1936. Nearly 454 million different numbers have been issued, according to the Social Security Administration. Supplanting such an ingrained apparatus would not happen over night. The original intent was to track U.S. workers’ earning to determine their Social Security benefits. But the rise of computers, government agencies and companies found new uses for the number, which gradually grew into a national identifier.

          Over the decades, the Social Security number became valuable for what could be gained by stealing it, said Bruce Schneier, a fellow at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. It was the only number available to identify a person and became the standard used for everything from confirming someone at the doctor’s office to school.

          Akin to Infrastructure

          “They appeared at an age when we didn’t have other numbers,” Schneier said in an interview. “Think of this as part of our aging infrastructure” from roads and bridges to communications. “Sooner or later we as a society need to fix our aging infrastructure.” 

          He pointed to India’s wide-scale rollout of the Aadhaar card, a unique number provided to citizens after collecting their biometric information — fingerprints and an iris scan — along with demographic details, to almost 1.2 billion people. In the U.S., a more secure system could be designed, “but magic math costs money,” he said.

          Making any changes to the current system, including replacing numbers entirely or restricting who can use them, would likely require an act of Congress, according to Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center in Washington, which advocates for limiting the use of Social Security numbers. 

          Rewriting Laws

          “You’d need to change a lot of existing public law," Rotenberg said. “There would need to be extensive hearings and study about the consequences. It’s a complicated issue." 

          The government’s own record of protecting Social Security numbers has its blemishes. Medicare, the federal health-care program for senior citizens, has long used the numbers on identification cards recipients must carry. After years of criticism by the agency’s inspector general for the risks that creates, new cards with different numbers are currently being rolled out.

          The failure of the Social Security number is that there’s only one for each person, “once it’s compromised one time, you’re done,” Bob Stasio, a fellow at the Truman National Security Project and former chief of operations at the National Security Agency’s Cyber Operations Center.

          Public and private keys — long strings of code — could help validate identities. For instance, the government could issue each person a public key and private key. If people were to open a bank account, for instance, they could provide their public key — instead of a Social Security number — and the bank would send a message that could only be decrypted using their private key. If the private key gets compromised, the government could easily issue another one.

          Saved by Math

          Stasio also cited emerging blockchain technology as another potential tool. It could create a kind of digital DNA fingerprint that’s “mathematically impossible” to duplicate. In place of a Social Security number, each person could receive a blockchain hash — a kind of algorithm unique to an individual — that is stamped on every digital transaction or action.

          That type of technology “could be used as a much more efficient and mathematically sound method of transaction, identification and validation,” Stasio said.

          While lawmakers were unanimous in criticizing Equifax’s response to a breach that compromised information on 145.5 million U.S. consumers, they were divided on how to fix the underlying issue. Democrats on the panel have reintroduced legislation imposing requirements for when companies have to report data breaches, while Oregon Republican Greg Walden noted the company’s human errors, saying “you can’t fix stupid.”

          Smith said the Equifax employee responsible for communicating that the vulnerable software needed to be patched didn’t do so. That failure was compounded when a scan of the company’s systems didn’t find that the vulnerability still existed, the former CEO said.

          Joyce’s comments helped take some of the focus off Equifax’s blunders, analysts at Cowen Inc. said in a note Tuesday.

          The “White House may be indirectly coming to Equifax’s rescue,” they wrote. “This reduces the risk of business-model-busting legislation such as a requirement that consumers opt-in to a credit bureau collecting their data.”

            Read more: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-10-03/white-house-and-equifax-agree-social-security-numbers-should-go

            Bill Gates and Richard Branson Back Startup That Grows Clean Meat

            Cargill Inc., one of the largest global agricultural companies, has joined Bill Gates and other business giants to invest in a nascent technology to make meat from self-producing animal cells amid rising consumer demand for protein that’s less reliant on feed, land and water.

            Memphis Meats, which produces beef, chicken and duck directly from animal cells without raising and slaughtering livestock or poultry, raised $17 million from investors including Cargill, Gates and billionaire Richard Branson, according to a statement Tuesday on the San Francisco-based startup’s website. The fundraising round was led by venture-capital firm DFJ, which has previously backed several social-minded retail startups.

            "I’m thrilled to have invested in Memphis Meats,” Branson said in an email in response to questions from Bloomberg News. “I believe that in 30 years or so we will no longer need to kill any animals and that all meat will either be clean or plant-based, taste the same and also be much healthier for everyone.”

            This is the latest move by an agricultural giant to respond to consumers, especially Millennials, who are rapidly leaving their mark on the U.S. food world. That’s happening through surging demand for organic products, increasing focus on food that’s considered sustainable and greater attention on animal treatment. Big poultry and livestock processors have started to take up alternatives to traditional meat.

            “The world loves to eat meat, and it is core to many of our cultures and traditions,” Uma Valeti, co-founder and chief executive officer of Memphis Meats, said in the statement. “The way conventional meat is produced today creates challenges for the environment, animal welfare and human health. These are problems that everyone wants to solve.”

            ‘Clean Meat’

            To date, Memphis Meats has raised $22 million, signaling a commitment to the “clean-meat movement,” the company said.

            Cargill has “taken an equity position in Memphis Meats’ first series of funding,” Sonya Roberts, the president of growth ventures at Cargill Protein, said in an email, without disclosing the investment amount.

            “Our equity position with Memphis Meats gives Cargill entry into the cultured protein market and allows us to work together to further innovate and commercialize,” Roberts said. “We believe that consumers will continue to crave meat, and we aim to bring it to the table, as sustainably and cost-effectively as we can. Cultured meats and conventionally produced meats will both play a role in meeting that demand.”

            The investment is just the most recent by traditional meat companies. Tyson Foods Inc., the largest U.S. meat producer, has created a venture capital fund focused on investing in companies “to sustainably feed” the world’s growing population and in December announced a stake in plant-based protein producer Beyond Meat, which counts Gates among its early funders.

              Read more: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-08-23/cargill-bill-gates-bet-on-startup-making-meat-without-slaughter

              Neil Gaiman: Why our future depends on libraries, reading and daydreaming

              A lecture explaining why using our imaginations, and providing for others to use theirs, is an obligation for all citizens

              Its important for people to tell you what side they are on and why, and whether they might be biased. A declaration of members interests, of a sort. So, I am going to be talking to you about reading. Im going to tell you that libraries are important. Im going to suggest that reading fiction, that reading for pleasure, is one of the most important things one can do. Im going to make an impassioned plea for people to understand what libraries and librarians are, and to preserve both of these things.

              And I am biased, obviously and enormously: Im an author, often an author of fiction. I write for children and for adults. For about 30 years I have been earning my living through my words, mostly by making things up and writing them down. It is obviously in my interest for people to read, for them to read fiction, for libraries and librarians to exist and help foster a love of reading and places in which reading can occur.

              So Im biased as a writer. But I am much, much more biased as a reader. And I am even more biased as a British citizen.

              And Im here giving this talk tonight, under the auspices of the Reading Agency: a charity whose mission is to give everyone an equal chance in life by helping people become confident and enthusiastic readers. Which supports literacy programs, and libraries and individuals and nakedly and wantonly encourages the act of reading. Because, they tell us, everything changes when we read.

              And its that change, and that act of reading that Im here to talk about tonight. I want to talk about what reading does. What its good for.

              I was once in New York, and I listened to a talk about the building of private prisons a huge growth industry in America. The prison industry needs to plan its future growth how many cells are they going to need? How many prisoners are there going to be, 15 years from now? And they found they could predict it very easily, using a pretty simple algorithm, based on asking what percentage of 10 and 11-year-olds couldnt read. And certainly couldnt read for pleasure.

              Its not one to one: you cant say that a literate society has no criminality. But there are very real correlations.

              And I think some of those correlations, the simplest, come from something very simple. Literate people read fiction.

              Fiction has two uses. Firstly, its a gateway drug to reading. The drive to know what happens next, to want to turn the page, the need to keep going, even if its hard, because someones in trouble and you have to know how its all going to end thats a very real drive. And it forces you to learn new words, to think new thoughts, to keep going. To discover that reading per se is pleasurable. Once you learn that, youre on the road to reading everything. And reading is key. There were noises made briefly, a few years ago, about the idea that we were living in a post-literate world, in which the ability to make sense out of written words was somehow redundant, but those days are gone: words are more important than they ever were: we navigate the world with words, and as the world slips onto the web, we need to follow, to communicate and to comprehend what we are reading. People who cannot understand each other cannot exchange ideas, cannot communicate, and translation programs only go so far.

              The simplest way to make sure that we raise literate children is to teach them to read, and to show them that reading is a pleasurable activity. And that means, at its simplest, finding books that they enjoy, giving them access to those books, and letting them read them.

              I dont think there is such a thing as a bad book for children. Every now and again it becomes fashionable among some adults to point at a subset of childrens books, a genre, perhaps, or an author, and to declare them bad books, books that children should be stopped from reading. Ive seen it happen over and over; Enid Blyton was declared a bad author, so was RL Stine, so were dozens of others. Comics have been decried as fostering illiteracy.

              Enid
              No such thing as a bad writer… Enid Blytons Famous Five. Photograph: Greg Balfour Evans/Alamy

              Its tosh. Its snobbery and its foolishness. There are no bad authors for children, that children like and want to read and seek out, because every child is different. They can find the stories they need to, and they bring themselves to stories. A hackneyed, worn-out idea isnt hackneyed and worn out to them. This is the first time the child has encountered it. Do not discourage children from reading because you feel they are reading the wrong thing. Fiction you do not like is a route to other books you may prefer. And not everyone has the same taste as you.

              Well-meaning adults can easily destroy a childs love of reading: stop them reading what they enjoy, or give them worthy-but-dull books that you like, the 21st-century equivalents of Victorian improving literature. Youll wind up with a generation convinced that reading is uncool and worse, unpleasant.

              We need our children to get onto the reading ladder: anything that they enjoy reading will move them up, rung by rung, into literacy. (Also, do not do what this author did when his 11-year-old daughter was into RL Stine, which is to go and get a copy of Stephen Kings Carrie, saying if you liked those youll love this! Holly read nothing but safe stories of settlers on prairies for the rest of her teenage years, and still glares at me when Stephen Kings name is mentioned.)

              And the second thing fiction does is to build empathy. When you watch TV or see a film, you are looking at things happening to other people. Prose fiction is something you build up from 26 letters and a handful of punctuation marks, and you, and you alone, using your imagination, create a world and people it and look out through other eyes. You get to feel things, visit places and worlds you would never otherwise know. You learn that everyone else out there is a me, as well. Youre being someone else, and when you return to your own world, youre going to be slightly changed.

              Empathy is a tool for building people into groups, for allowing us to function as more than self-obsessed individuals.

              Youre also finding out something as you read vitally important for making your way in the world. And its this:

              The world doesnt have to be like this. Things can be different.

              I was in China in 2007, at the first party-approved science fiction and fantasy convention in Chinese history. And at one point I took a top official aside and asked him Why? SF had been disapproved of for a long time. What had changed?

              Its simple, he told me. The Chinese were brilliant at making things if other people brought them the plans. But they did not innovate and they did not invent. They did not imagine. So they sent a delegation to the US, to Apple, to Microsoft, to Google, and they asked the people there who were inventing the future about themselves. And they found that all of them had read science fiction when they were boys or girls.

              Fiction can show you a different world. It can take you somewhere youve never been. Once youve visited other worlds, like those who ate fairy fruit, you can never be entirely content with the world that you grew up in. Discontent is a good thing: discontented people can modify and improve their worlds, leave them better, leave them different.

              And while were on the subject, Id like to say a few words about escapism. I hear the term bandied about as if its a bad thing. As if escapist fiction is a cheap opiate used by the muddled and the foolish and the deluded, and the only fiction that is worthy, for adults or for children, is mimetic fiction, mirroring the worst of the world the reader finds herself in.

              If you were trapped in an impossible situation, in an unpleasant place, with people who meant you ill, and someone offered you a temporary escape, why wouldnt you take it? And escapist fiction is just that: fiction that opens a door, shows the sunlight outside, gives you a place to go where you are in control, are with people you want to be with(and books are real places, make no mistake about that); and more importantly, during your escape, books can also give you knowledge about the world and your predicament, give you weapons, give you armour: real things you can take back into your prison. Skills and knowledge and tools you can use to escape for real.

              As JRR Tolkien reminded us, the only people who inveigh against escape are jailers.

              Tolkien's
              Tolkiens illustration of Bilbos home, Bag End. Photograph: HarperCollins

              Another way to destroy a childs love of reading, of course, is to make sure there are no books of any kind around. And to give them nowhere to read those books. I was lucky. I had an excellent local library growing up. I had the kind of parents who could be persuaded to drop me off in the library on their way to work in summer holidays, and the kind of librarians who did not mind a small, unaccompanied boy heading back into the childrens library every morning and working his way through the card catalogue, looking for books with ghosts or magic or rockets in them, looking for vampires or detectives or witches or wonders. And when I had finished reading the childrens library I began on the adult books.

              They were good librarians. They liked books and they liked the books being read. They taught me how to order books from other libraries on inter-library loans. They had no snobbery about anything I read. They just seemed to like that there was this wide-eyed little boy who loved to read, and would talk to me about the books I was reading, they would find me other books in a series, they would help. They treated me as another reader nothing less or more which meant they treated me with respect. I was not used to being treated with respect as an eight-year-old.

              But libraries are about freedom. Freedom to read, freedom of ideas, freedom of communication. They are about education (which is not a process that finishes the day we leave school or university), about entertainment, about making safe spaces, and about access to information.

              I worry that here in the 21st century people misunderstand what libraries are and the purpose of them. If you perceive a library as a shelf of books, it may seem antiquated or outdated in a world in which most, but not all, books in print exist digitally. But that is to miss the point fundamentally.

              I think it has to do with nature of information. Information has value, and the right information has enormous value. For all of human history, we have lived in a time of information scarcity, and having the needed information was always important, and always worth something: when to plant crops, where to find things, maps and histories and stories they were always good for a meal and company. Information was a valuable thing, and those who had it or could obtain it could charge for that service.

              In the last few years, weve moved from an information-scarce economy to one driven by an information glut. According to Eric Schmidt of Google, every two days now the human race creates as much information as we did from the dawn of civilisation until 2003. Thats about five exobytes of data a day, for those of you keeping score. The challenge becomes, not finding that scarce plant growing in the desert, but finding a specific plant growing in a jungle. We are going to need help navigating that information to find the thing we actually need.

              A
              Photograph: Alamy

              Libraries are places that people go to for information. Books are only the tip of the information iceberg: they are there, and libraries can provide you freely and legally with books. More children are borrowing books from libraries than ever before books of all kinds: paper and digital and audio. But libraries are also, for example, places that people, who may not have computers, who may not have internet connections, can go online without paying anything: hugely important when the way you find out about jobs, apply for jobs or apply for benefits is increasingly migrating exclusively online. Librarians can help these people navigate that world.

              I do not believe that all books will or should migrate onto screens: as Douglas Adams once pointed out to me, more than 20 years before the Kindle turned up, a physical book is like a shark. Sharks are old: there were sharks in the ocean before the dinosaurs. And the reason there are still sharks around is that sharks are better at being sharks than anything else is. Physical books are tough, hard to destroy, bath-resistant, solar-operated, feel good in your hand: they are good at being books, and there will always be a place for them. They belong in libraries, just as libraries have already become places you can go to get access to ebooks, and audiobooks and DVDs and web content.

              A library is a place that is a repository of information and gives every citizen equal access to it. That includes health information. And mental health information. Its a community space. Its a place of safety, a haven from the world. Its a place with librarians in it. What the libraries of the future will be like is something we should be imagining now.

              Literacy is more important than ever it was, in this world of text and email, a world of written information. We need to read and write, we need global citizens who can read comfortably, comprehend what they are reading, understand nuance, and make themselves understood.

              Libraries really are the gates to the future. So it is unfortunate that, round the world, we observe local authorities seizing the opportunity to close libraries as an easy way to save money, without realising that they are stealing from the future to pay for today. They are closing the gates that should be open.

              According to a recent study by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, England is the only country where the oldest age group has higher proficiency in both literacy and numeracy than the youngest group, after other factors, such as gender, socio-economic backgrounds and type of occupations are taken into account.

              Or to put it another way, our children and our grandchildren are less literate and less numerate than we are. They are less able to navigate the world, to understand it to solve problems. They can be more easily lied to and misled, will be less able to change the world in which they find themselves, be less employable. All of these things. And as a country, England will fall behind other developed nations because it will lack a skilled workforce.

              Books are the way that we communicate with the dead. The way that we learn lessons from those who are no longer with us, that humanity has built on itself, progressed, made knowledge incremental rather than something that has to be relearned, over and over. There are tales that are older than most countries, tales that have long outlasted the cultures and the buildings in which they were first told.

              I think we have responsibilities to the future. Responsibilities and obligations to children, to the adults those children will become, to the world they will find themselves inhabiting. All of us as readers, as writers, as citizens have obligations. I thought Id try and spell out some of these obligations here.

              I believe we have an obligation to read for pleasure, in private and in public places. If we read for pleasure, if others see us reading, then we learn, we exercise our imaginations. We show others that reading is a good thing.

              We have an obligation to support libraries. To use libraries, to encourage others to use libraries, to protest the closure of libraries. If you do not value libraries then you do not value information or culture or wisdom. You are silencing the voices of the past and you are damaging the future.

              We have an obligation to read aloud to our children. To read them things they enjoy. To read to them stories we are already tired of. To do the voices, to make it interesting, and not to stop reading to them just because they learn to read to themselves. Use reading-aloud time as bonding time, as time when no phones are being checked, when the distractions of the world are put aside.

              We have an obligation to use the language. To push ourselves: to find out what words mean and how to deploy them, to communicate clearly, to say what we mean. We must not to attempt to freeze language, or to pretend it is a dead thing that must be revered, but we should use it as a living thing, that flows, that borrows words, that allows meanings and pronunciations to change with time.

              We writers and especially writers for children, but all writers have an obligation to our readers: its the obligation to write true things, especially important when we are creating tales of people who do not exist in places that never were to understand that truth is not in what happens but what it tells us about who we are. Fiction is the lie that tells the truth, after all. We have an obligation not to bore our readers, but to make them need to turn the pages. One of the best cures for a reluctant reader, after all, is a tale they cannot stop themselves from reading. And while we must tell our readers true things and give them weapons and give them armour and pass on whatever wisdom we have gleaned from our short stay on this green world, we have an obligation not to preach, not to lecture, not to force predigested morals and messages down our readers throats like adult birds feeding their babies pre-masticated maggots; and we have an obligation never, ever, under any circumstances, to write anything for children that we would not want to read ourselves.

              We have an obligation to understand and to acknowledge that as writers for children we are doing important work, because if we mess it up and write dull books that turn children away from reading and from books, we ve lessened our own future and diminished theirs.

              We all adults and children, writers and readers have an obligation to daydream. We have an obligation to imagine. It is easy to pretend that nobody can change anything, that we are in a world in which society is huge and the individual is less than nothing: an atom in a wall, a grain of rice in a rice field. But the truth is, individuals change their world over and over, individuals make the future, and they do it by imagining that things can be different.

              Look around you: I mean it. Pause, for a moment and look around the room that you are in. Im going to point out something so obvious that it tends to be forgotten. Its this: that everything you can see, including the walls, was, at some point, imagined. Someone decided it was easier to sit on a chair than on the ground and imagined the chair. Someone had to imagine a way that I could talk to you in London right now without us all getting rained on.This room and the things in it, and all the other things in this building, this city, exist because, over and over and over, people imagined things.

              We have an obligation to make things beautiful. Not to leave the world uglier than we found it, not to empty the oceans, not to leave our problems for the next generation. We have an obligation to clean up after ourselves, and not leave our children with a world weve shortsightedly messed up, shortchanged, and crippled.

              We have an obligation to tell our politicians what we want, to vote against politicians of whatever party who do not understand the value of reading in creating worthwhile citizens, who do not want to act to preserve and protect knowledge and encourage literacy. This is not a matter of party politics. This is a matter of common humanity.

              Albert Einstein was asked once how we could make our children intelligent. His reply was both simple and wise. If you want your children to be intelligent, he said, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales. He understood the value of reading, and of imagining. I hope we can give our children a world in which they will read, and be read to, and imagine, and understand.

              This is an edited version of Neil Gaimans lecture for the Reading Agency, delivered on Monday October 14 at the Barbican in London. The Reading Agencys annual lecture series was initiated in 2012 as a platform for leading writers and thinkers to share original, challenging ideas about reading and libraries.

              Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/books/2013/oct/15/neil-gaiman-future-libraries-reading-daydreaming