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Phones, Browsers, and Search Engines Get a Privacy Overhaul

Fri, 02/07/2014 - 00:00

Small companies are showing that the technology we rely on can be redesigned to protect our data—and that consumers are interested.

As the reach of the Internet has grown, so has the medium’s favored business model: targeted advertising. Signals recording our activity are harvested as we browse the Web and, increasingly, as we use our smartphones. That information is used to build profiles that help advertisers target ads, and opting out is rarely easy.

Zynga Hopes to Breathe New Life into Flat Games Characters

Thu, 02/06/2014 - 00:00

Zynga is switching strategy with animation technology that makes characters move more naturally.

The future of troubled gaming company Zynga may owe more to a charming, if clumsy, ninja than to the pixelated cows of the company’s breakout hit FarmVille.

A Robotic Hand, This Time with Feeling

Wed, 02/05/2014 - 14:30

A man with a robotic hand can now feel varying degrees of pressure thanks to an implant that connects with the nerves in his arm.

A Dutch man who lost his left hand in a fireworks accident nine years ago is now able to feel different kinds of pressure on three fingers of a prosthetic, robotic hand. The work involved a new kind of implanted device that delivers feedback directly to the remaining nerves in the man’s arm. The implant was left in place for 31 days, allowing the man to feel gradations of touch pressure, depending on the amount of electrical stimulus delivered.

Why Google Kept Motorola’s Research Lab

Tue, 02/04/2014 - 15:45

Motorola Mobility’s sale to Lenovo only looks like a loss—the patents were cheap, and Google might yet advance wearables, home devices, and modular phone hardware.

Google’s $2.9 billion sale of Motorola Mobility to Chinese PC maker Lenovo might seem like lousy business, given Google’s $12.5 billion purchase in 2012 and losses of $1 billion in the interim. But it leaves Google with a mobile research unit and a war chest of patents arguably bought at a very good price. And it gives a boost to Android in developing countries.

Burning the U.K.’s Plutonium Stockpile Could Fast-Track New Reactors

Tue, 02/04/2014 - 00:00

GE’s nuclear waste-burning PRISM reactors get a new chance at commercialization.

Pressure to reduce the U.K.’s plutonium stockpile, along with generous premiums for new nuclear power generation, is breathing new life into a decades-old reactor design—GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy’s Power Reactor Innovative Small Module, or PRISM, technology. PRISM is a fast reactor, whose speedy neutrons can break down waste from spent nuclear fuel.

Solar Thermal Technology Poses Challenges for Drought-Stricken California

Mon, 02/03/2014 - 00:00

Reducing water consumption at solar thermal plants raises costs and decreases power production.

California’s ambitious goal of getting a third of its electricity from renewable energy sources by 2030 is being tested by its driest year on record, part of a multiyear drought that’s seriously straining water supplies. The state plan relies heavily on solar thermal technology, but this type of solar power also typically consumes huge quantities of water.

Q&A: Dropbox CEO Drew Houston

Thu, 01/30/2014 - 16:30

How the wunderkind of cloud storage deals with government snooping and recruits more geeks.

Dropbox, the popular cloud storage system that lets people drag files to an icon that puts that data in the cloud and sync new versions across multiple devices (see “Hiding All the Complexities of Remote File Storage Behind a Small Blue Box”), recently got $250 million in new funding, giving it a $10 billion valuation.

Monkeys Modified with Genome Editing

Thu, 01/30/2014 - 13:30

Macaques in China are the first primates born with genomes engineered by precision gene-targeting methods.

Researchers at Nanjing Medical University and Yunnan Key Laboratory of Primate Biomedical Research in Kunming, China, have created genetically modified monkeys using a new method of DNA engineering known as Crispr. The infant macaques show that targeted genome editing is feasible in primates—a potential boon for scientists studying complex diseases, including neurological ones, and an advance that suggests that the method could one day work in humans. The work was reported in the journal Cell on Thursday.

The Future of Personal Entertainment, In Your Face

Thu, 01/30/2014 - 00:00

The Glyph headset is weird-looking and expensive, but amazingly immersive.

I’m watching a jellyfish pump past me lazily, its movement interrupting the twinkling of underwater particles, when a sea turtle suddenly swims my way and starts munching on the jellyfish’s tentacles.

“Honey Encryption” Will Bamboozle Attackers with Fake Secrets

Wed, 01/29/2014 - 00:00

A new approach to encryption beats attackers by presenting them with fake data.

Ari Juels, an independent researcher who was previously chief scientist at computer security company RSA, thinks something important is missing from the cryptography protecting our sensitive data: trickery.

A 96-Antenna System Tests the Next Generation of Wireless

Tue, 01/28/2014 - 00:00

Rice University is testing a highly efficient wireless communications system.

Even as the world’s carriers build out the latest wireless infrastructure, known as 4G LTE, a new apparatus bristling with 96 antennas taking shape at a Rice University lab in Texas could help define the next generation of wireless technology.

Audi Bets on Bio Gasoline Startup

Mon, 01/27/2014 - 00:00

Startup Global Bioenergies uses genetic engineering to avoid one of the costliest steps in biofuel production.

Audi is investing in a startup, Paris-based Global Bioenergies, that says it can make cheap gasoline from sugar and other renewable sources. The strategic partnership includes stock options and an unspecified amount of funding.

An AI Pal That Is Better Than “Her”

Fri, 01/24/2014 - 00:00

The charming automated assistant in Spike Jonze’s new movie isn’t realistic. But if they were designed thoughtfully, computerized interlocutors could make us better people.

In the movie Her, which was nominated for the Oscar for Best Picture this year, a middle-aged writer named Theodore Twombly installs and rapidly falls in love with an artificially intelligent operating system who christens herself Samantha.

Startup Thinks Its Battery Will Solve Renewable Energy’s Big Flaw

Thu, 01/23/2014 - 00:00

Aquion has started production of a low-cost sodium-ion battery aimed at making renewable energy viable.

A former Sony TV factory near Pittsburgh is coming to life again after lying idle for four years. Whirring robotic arms have started to assemble a new kind of battery that could make the grid more efficient and let villages run on solar power around the clock.

Seeking Edge, Websites Turn to Experiments

Wed, 01/22/2014 - 00:00

Optimization technology is reshaping publishers’ decision-making process—and the Web itself.

1-800-Dentist is a small company facing a big decision. What picture on its Web home page will get the most people to fill out a form with their names and phone numbers?

Scientific Thinking in Business

Wed, 01/22/2014 - 00:00

More than technology, businesses need the scientific method.

Throughout history, innovations in instrumentation—the microscope, the telescope, and the cyclotron—have repeatedly revolutionized science by improving scientists’ ability to measure the natural world. Now, with human behavior increasingly reliant on digital platforms like the Web and mobile apps, technology is effectively “instrumenting” the social world as well. The resulting deluge of data has revolutionary implications not only for social science but also for business decision making.

The Power to Decide

Wed, 01/22/2014 - 00:00

What’s the point of all that data, anyway? It’s to make decisions.

Back in 1956, an engineer and a mathematician, William Fair and Earl Isaac, pooled $800 to start a company. Their idea: a score to handicap whether a borrower would repay a loan.

Securing the Smart Home, from Toasters to Toilets

Tue, 01/21/2014 - 00:00

Efforts are underway to make your smart toilet—and other connected devices—less vulnerable to hackers.

In late December, a researcher at enterprise security company Proofpoint noticed something strange: a security gateway was logging hundreds of thousands of malicious e-mails that were clearly being sent out by over 100,000 Linux-running devices, but they weren’t PCs. Rather, they were Internet-connected consumer gadgets including routers, TVs, multimedia centers, and even a fridge.

Around the World, Net Neutrality Is Not a Reality

Mon, 01/20/2014 - 00:00

In much of the world, the concept of “net neutrality” generates less public debate, given there’s no affordable Net in the first place.

Net neutrality—the idea that all Internet traffic should generally be treated equally—suffered a setback this week when a federal court struck down the U.S. Federal Communications Commission’s latest regulatory effort (see “Net Neutrality Quashed: New Pricing Schemes, Throttling, and Business Models to Follow”).

Sync Your Files without Trusting the Cloud

Fri, 01/17/2014 - 00:00

The company behind the Bittorrent protocol is working on software that can replicate most features of file-syncing services without handing your data to cloud servers.

The debate over how much we should trust cloud companies with our data (see “NSA Spying Is Making Us Less Safe”) was reawakened last year after revelations that the National Security Agency routinely harvests data from Internet companies including Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, and Facebook.