Beto O’Rourke could be the first hacker president

Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke has revealed he was a member of a notorious decades-old hacking group.

The former congressman was a member of the Texas-based hacker group, the Cult of the Dead Cow, known for inspiring early hacktivism in the internet age and building exploits and hacks for Microsoft Windows. The group used the internet as a platform in the 1990s to protest real-world events, often to promote human rights and denouncing censorship. Among its many releases, the Cult of the Dead Cow was best known for its Back Orifice program, a remote access and administration tool.

O’Rourke went by the handle “Psychedelic Warlord,” as revealed by Reuters, which broke the story.

But as he climbed the political ranks, first elected to the El Paso city council in 2005, he reportedly grew concerned that his membership with the group would harm his political aspirations. The group’s members kept O’Rourke’s secret safe until the ex-hacker confirmed to Reuters his association with the group.

Reuters described him as the “most prominent ex-hacker in American political history,” who on Thursday announced his candidacy for president of the United States.

If he wins the White House, he would become the first hacker president.

O’Rourke’s history sheds light on how the candidate approaches and understands the technological issues that face the U.S. today. He’s one of the few presidential candidates to run for the White House with more than a modicum of tech knowledge — and the crucial awareness of the good and the problems tech can bring at a policy level.

“I understand the democratizing power of the internet, and how transformative it was for me personally, and how it leveraged the extraordinary intelligence of these people all over the country who were sharing ideas and techniques,” O’Rourke told Reuters.

The 46-year-old has yet to address supporters about the new revelations.

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Former Dropbox exec Dennis Woodside joins Impossible Foods as its first President

Former Google and Dropbox executive Dennis Woodside has joined the meat replacement developer Impossible Foods as the company’s first President.

Woodside, who previously shepherded Dropbox through its initial public offering, is a longtime technology executive who is making his first foray into the food business.

The 25-year tech industry veteran most recently served as the chief operating officer of Dropbox, and previously was the chief executive of Motorola Mobility after that company’s acquisition by Google.

“I love what Impossible Foods is doing: using science and technology to deliver delicious and nutritious foods that people love, in an environmentally sustainable way,” Woodside said. “I’m equally thrilled to focus on providing the award-winning Impossible Burger and future products to millions of consumers, restaurants and retailers.”

According to a statement, Woodside will be responsible for the company’s operations, manufacturing, supply chain, sales, marketing, human resources and other functions.

The company currently has a staff of 350 divided between its Redwood City, Calif. and Oakland manufacturing plant.

Impossible Foods now slings its burger in restaurants across the United States, Hong Kong, Macau and Singapore and is expecting to launch a grocery store product later this year.

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Boeing requests FAA ground the 737 as the President pushes an emergency order

After consulting with the Federal Aviation Administration, the National Transportation Safety Board, and airlines, Boeing is throwing its support behind a decision to ground its 737 Max planes.

“Boeing has determined — out of an abundance of caution and in order to reassure the flying public of the aircraft’s safety — to recommend to the FAA the temporary suspension of operations of the entire global fleet of 371 737 MAX aircraft,” the company said in a statement.

Boeing’s statement comes amid mounting pressure for the FAA to ground Boeing’s planes and belies the company’s reported efforts behind the scenes to keep its planes aloft — at least in the United States.

The company’s chief executive, Dennis A. Muilenburg, reportedly called from Chicago to assure President Trump about the safety of the planes, which have been involved in crashes on flights operated by Nigerian and Indonesian airline carriers, according to a report in The New York Times

According to the Times report, the call had been planned since Monday, but came after the President had called the safety of passenger airlines into question — blaming an overabundance of technology for the recent spate of accidents.

Indeed, Boeing’s acquiescence arrives even as President Donald Trump was readying  an emergency order that would ground the planes.

“We are supporting this proactive step out of an abundance of caution. Safety is a core value at Boeing for as long as we have been building airplanes; and it always will be. There is no greater priority for our company and our industry,” according to a statement from Boeing. “We are doing everything we can to understand the cause of the accidents in partnership with the investigators, deploy safety enhancements and help ensure this does not happen again.”

And the Federal Aviation Administration has now grounded the planes.

Here’s the statement from the FAA

The FAA is ordering the temporary grounding of Boeing 737 MAX aircraft operated by U.S. airlines or in U.S. territory. The agency made this decision as a result of the data gathering process and new evidence collected at the site and analyzed today. This evidence, together with newly refined satellite data available to FAA this morning, led to this decision.

The grounding will remain in effect pending further investigation, including examination of information from the aircraft’s flight data recorders and cockpit voice recorders. An FAA team is in Ethiopia assisting the NTSB as parties to the investigation of the Flight 302 accident. The agency will continue to investigate.

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Boeing is moving to address potential issues in new 737s as Europe bans its plane

In the wake of the second fatal crash in six months involving Boeing 737 Max 8 airplanes, the European Aviation and Safety Administration is grounding the planes as Boeing said it was taking additional steps to address an issue that may have contributed to the crash.

On Sunday, a Boeing 737 Max 8 plane operated by Ethiopian Airlines crashed just minutes after takeoff killing all 157 on board the flight. Last October, a Lion Air flight departing from Jakarta crashed in similar circumstances killing all 189 people on board. The plane involved was also a 737 Max 8.

Responding to the incidents, the European Union Aviation and Safety Administration has banned the plane from operating in European airspace.

Here’s the statement from the EASA:

Following the tragic accident of Ethiopian Airlines flight ET302 involving a Boeing 737 MAX 8, the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) is taking every step necessary to ensure the safety of passengers.

As a precautionary measure, EASA has published today an Airworthiness Directive, effective as of 19:00 UTC, suspending all flight operations of all Boeing Model 737-8 MAX and 737-9 MAX aeroplanes in Europe. In addition EASA has published a Safety Directive, effective as of 19:00 UTC, suspending all commercial flights performed by third-country operators into, within or out of the EU of the above mentioned models.

Meanwhile, Boeing has issued a statement saying that it has been developing a software update following the Lion Air crash. “This includes updates to the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System flight control law, pilot displays, operation manuals and crew training.”

Essentially, faulty sensors may have been to blame for the Lion Air crash. “The enhanced flight control law incorporates angle of attack (AOA) inputs, limits stabilizer trim commands in response to an erroneous angle of attack reading, and provides a limit to the stabilizer command in order to retain elevator authority,” Boeing said in a statement about its software update.

Essentially, the sensors think the plane is stalling and they apply an opposite remedial action which trims an airplanes down, Flying Magazine columnist and small-plane pilot Peter Garrison tells me. It then takes enormous force from the pilots to hold the nose up, rendering them unable to address the problem, he adds.

“Once you are holding on to the controls for dear life you don’t have any hands left to correct the problem,” says Garrison. “You expect that confronted in an emergency the pilot will analyze what’s happening and act accordingly. Human beings don’t necessarily panic, but they lose their ability to reason clearly and to weigh alternative hypotheses when they are under basically what is a threat of death. Even though it may seem obvious that all you have to do is interrupt the autopilot, amazingly that may not occur to a pilot who is hundreds of feet off the ground and has to pull back on a control yoke with hundreds of pounds of force.”

According to Garrison, the blame on Boeing may be misplaced.

“People like to talk about this as the airplane is defective and they’re correcting it with software,” he says. “That’s all nonsense. Planes today are a mix of automatic systems — and by automatic I of course mean digital electronic systems and mechanical ones — and the natural aerodynamics of the airplane and you can’t separate these.”

If Boeing had made any mistakes, Garrison believes it was in the company’s inability to adequately communicate the problem to pilots and get them ready for taking action in the event of a malfunction.

Even in perfectly designed systems, the transition from automated controls to manual manipulation is difficult to achieve, says Garrison. “It’s not that hard to understand that automation does not make a smooth interface with human control. There’s a break there and it’s a dangerous break,” he said.

Here’s an explanation from Business Insider over the latest thinking around the Lion Air crash that provide further detail.

At the heart of the controversy surrounding the 737 Max is MCAS, the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System. To fit the Max’s larger, more fuel-efficient engines, Boeing had to redesign the way it mounts engines on the 737. This change disrupted the plane’s center of gravity and caused the Max to have a tendency to tip its nose upward during flight, increasing the likelihood of a stall. MCAS is designed to automatically counteract that tendency and point the nose of the plane downward.

Initial reports from the Lion Air investigation, however, indicate that a faulty sensor reading may have triggered MCAS shortly after the flight took off. Observers fear that a similar thing may have happened in Sunday’s Ethiopian Airlines flight.

“Boeing has been working closely with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) on development, planning and certification of the software enhancement, and it will be deployed across the 737 MAX fleet in the coming weeks,” the company said in a statement. “The update also incorporates feedback received from our customers.”

Boeing expects the update to be completed across its fleet by April.

In the interim, U.S. politicians have been pleading with the Federal Aviation Administration to take the same steps that countries including the entire European Union, China, Ethiopia, Australia, Singapore, Indonesia, and the operators Norwegian Air, Aeromexico, Gol Airlines from Brazil, the South Korean airline Easair, the South African airline, Comair, and others from around the globe.

No less an authority on aviation than President Donald Trump has also weighed in on the crashes and attendant controversy.

Setting the President’s calls to return aviation to the early part of the 20th century aside, several aviation administrations and airlines have grounded the Boeing 737 Max.

So the FAA is among the only civil aviation administrations in the world to keep the Boeing 737 Max 8 airborne.

“An FAA team is on-site with the NTSB in its investigation of Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302. We are collecting data and keeping in contact with international civil aviation authorities as information becomes available,” the FAA said in a statement yesterday.  “The FAA continuously assesses and oversees the safety performance of U.S. commercial aircraft.  If we identify an issue that affects safety, the FAA will take immediate and appropriate action.”

A spokesperson for the administration said there were no other statements from the Administration available at this time.

Earlier today, politicians from both sides of the aisle — including the Republican Utah Senator Mitt Romney and Democratic Senator and Presidential hopeful Elizabeth Warren — pleaded with the FAA to reverse their decision, according to Politico.

“Today, immediately, the FAA needs to get these planes out of the sky,” Warren said Tuesday.

Even former Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood, who grounded the 787 Dreamliner back in 2013 is calling for the FAA to pull the new 737s out of service.

That’s not just the view of this columnist. It’s also the opinion of Ray LaHood, the former U.S. Secretary of Transportation who grounded the 787 Dreamliner following fires in its lithium-ion battery packs in 2013.

“The flying public has to be assured that these planes are safe, and they don’t feel that way now,” LaHood told Bloomberg. “The Secretary of Transportation should announce today that these planes will be grounded until there is 100 percent assurance from Boeing that these planes are safe to fly, because unless they can give that assurance they’re not holding up their promise to be the top safety agency in the U.S.”

Such a move could be bad for Boeing. The 737 is Boeing’s most popular aircraft and the heart of the company’s fleet.

The company has been struggling to keep up with demand for its newest model of the 737, according to reports in the Seattle Times. And the new plane was Boeing’s best seller, keeping the stock buoyant.

A report from National Public Radio showed just how robust sales were for the new aircraft. It’s the fastest-selling plane that Boeing has ever produced. Expectations from executives were for the Max model to account for 90% of all 737 deliveres in 2019, according to a statement from the company’s chief financial officer, Gregory Smith, NPR reported.

Boeing stock is down nearly 6% in trading on the New York Stock Exchange.

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The next great debate will be about the role of tech in society and government

The Industrial Revolution dramatically re-ordered the sociology of politics. In the US, the Populist Party in the United States was founded as a force in opposition to capitalism, wary of modernity. In the UK, the profound economic changes reshaped policy: from the Factory and Workers Act through to the liberal reforms of David Lloyd George, which ultimately laid the ground for the welfare state, the consequences were felt for the whole of the next century.

Today, another far-reaching revolution is underway, which is causing similar ripple effects. Populists of both left and right have risen in prominence and are more successful than their American forebearers at the turn of the 19th century, but similarly rejecting of modernisation. And in their search for scapegoats to sustain their success, tech is now firmly in their firing line.

The risk is that it sets back progress in an area that is yet to truly transform public policy. In the UK at least, the government machine looks little different from how it did when Lloyd George announced the People’s Budget in 1909.

The first politicians who master this tech revolution and shape it for the public goodwill determine what the next century will look like. Rapid developments in technologies such as gene-editing and Artificial Intelligence, as well as the quest for potential ground-breaking leaps forward in nuclear fission and quantum computing, will provoke significant changes to our economies, societies and politics.

Yet, today, very few are even asking the right questions, let alone providing answers. This is why I’m focusing on technology as the biggest single topic that policymakers need to engage with. Through my institute, I’m hoping to help curate the best thinking on these critical issues and devise politically actionable policy and strategy to deal with them. This will help put tech, innovation and investment in research and development at the forefront of the progressive programme. And we do so in the belief that tech is – and will continue to be – a generally positive force for society.

This is not to ignore the problems that surfaced as a result of these changes, because there are genuine issues around privacy and public interest.

NEW YORK, NY – APRIL 23: Monitors show imagery from security cameras seen at the Lower Manhattan Security Initiative on April 23, 2013 in New York City. At the counter-terrorism center, police and private security personel monitor more than 4,000 surveillance cameras and license plate readers mounted around the Financial District and surrounding parts of Lower Manhattan. Designed to identify potential threats it is modeled after London’s “Ring of Steel” system. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)

The shifts that have and will occur in the labour market as a result of automation will require far more thinking about governments’ role, as those who are likely to bear the brunt of it are those already feeling left behind. Re-training alone will not suffice, and lifelong investment in skills may be required. So too does a Universal Basic Income feel insufficient and a last resort, rather than an active, well-targeted policy solution.

“The first politicians who master this tech revolution and shape it for the public goodwill determine what the next century will look like.”

But pessimism is a poor guide to the future. It ends in conservativism in one form or another, whether that is simple statism, protectionism or nationalism. And so the challenge for those us of who believe in this agenda of harnessing the opportunities, while mitigating its risks is to put this in a way that connects with people’s lives. This should be a New Deal or People’s Budget type moment; a seismic change in public policy as we pivot to the future.

At the highest level this is about the role of the state in the 21st century, which needs to move away from ideological debates over size and spend and towards how it is re-ordered to meet the demands of people today. In the US, President Obama made some big strides with the role of the Chief Technology Officer, but it will require a whole rethinking of government’s modus operandi, so that it is able to keep up with the pace of change around it.

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock/Kheng Guan Toh

Across all the key policy areas we should be asking: how can tech be used to enable people to live their lives as they choose, increase their quality of life and deliver more opportunities to flourish and succeed?

For example, in education it will include looking at new models of teaching. Online courses have raised the possibility of changing the business of learning, while AI may be able to change the nature of teaching, providing more personalised platforms and free teachers to spend their time more effectively. It could also include new models of funding, such as the Lambda School, which present exciting possibilities for the future.

Similarly with health, the use of technology in diagnostics is well-documented. But it can be transformative in how we deploy our resources, whether that is freeing up more front-line staff to give them more time with patients, or even in how the whole model currently works. As it stands a huge amount of costs go on the last days of life and on the elderly. But far more focus should go on prevention and monitoring, so that people can lead longer lives, have less anxiety about ill health and lower the risks of illnesses becoming far more serious than they need to be. Technology, which can often feel so intangible, can be revolutionary in this regard.

In infrastructure and transport too, there are potentially huge benefits. Whether this is new and more efficient forms of transport or how we design our public space so that it works better for citizens. This will necessitate large projects to better connect communities, but also focus on small and simple solutions to everyday concerns that people have about their day to day lives, such as using sensors to collect data and improve services improve every day standard of living. The Boston Major’s office has been at the frontier of such thinking, and more thought must go into how we use data to improve tax, welfare, energy and the public good.

Achieving this will better align government with the pace of change that has been happening in society. As it stands, the two are out of sync and unless government catches up, the belief and trust in institutions to be seen to working for people will continue to fall. Populism thrives in this space. But the responsibility is not solely on politicians. It is not enough for those in the tech world to say they don’t get it.

Those working in the sector must help them to understand and support policy development, rather than allow misunderstandings and mistrust to compound. Because in little more than two decades, the digital revolution has dramatically altered the shape of our economies in society. This can continue, but only if companies work alongside governments to truly deliver the change that so many slogans aspire to.

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