• Software verifies someone’s identity by their DNA in minutes

    In the science-fiction movie “Gattaca,” visitors only clear security if a blood test and readout of their genetic profile matches the sample on file. Now, cheap DNA sequencers and custom software could make real-time DNA-authentication a reality. Researchers have developed a method to quickly and accurately identify people and cell lines from their DNA. The technology could have multiple applications, from identifying victims in a mass disaster to analyzing crime scenes.

  • Mimicking peregrine falcon attack strategies could help down rogue drones

    Researchers have discovered that peregrine falcons steer their attacks using the same control strategies as guided missiles. The findings, which overturn previous assumptions that peregrines’ aerial hunting follows simple geometric rules, could be applied to the design of small, visually guided drones that can take down other ‘rogue’ drones in settings such as airports or prisons.

  • Explaining personal hurricane evacuation decisions

    Why do some people living in the path of a major hurricane decide to evacuate while others stay put? That’s what researchers want to know so that they can improve how emergency evacuations are handled. The researchers are gathering information about residents in areas hit by hurricanes Irma and Harvey to learn more about how people make decisions in risky situations. This will ultimately help officials and emergency personnel better manage evacuations in the future.

  • EFF wants information about government tattoo recognition technology

    The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) filed suit against the Department of Justice, the Department of Commerce, and the Department of Homeland Security the other day, demanding records about the agencies’ work on the federal Tattoo Recognition Technology program. EFF says that this secretive program involves a coalition of government, academia, and private industry working to develop a series of algorithms that would rapidly detect tattoos, identify people via their tattoos, and match people with others who have similar body art—as well as flagging tattoos believed to be connected to religious and ethnic symbols.

  • Disaster zones could soon be salvaged by teams of smart devices – here’s how

    We will remember 2017 as an appalling year for natural disasters. It comes months after the UN’s head of disaster planning warned that the world is not adequately preparing for disasters. This, he said, risks “inconceivably bad” consequences as climate change makes disasters more frequent and severe. In such circumstances, modern technologies like smartphones, sensors and drones could help enormously, particularly if we can get them to act like an intelligent network. We recently outlined how these three strands from political theory, social science, and biology could be brought together to develop a new paradigm for complex device networks. We see encouraging signs that such thinking is starting to catch on among researchers. These ideas should enable us to develop new approaches that will underpin and enhance a wide variety of human activities – not least when the next disaster strikes. It might even mitigate the effects of climate change, making us better at foreseeing catastrophes and taking steps to avert them.

  • An armed robber’s Supreme Court case could affect all Americans’ digital privacy for decades to come

    A man named Timothy Carpenter planned and participated in several armed robberies at Radio Shack and T-Mobile stores in Michigan and Ohio between 2010 and 2012. He was caught, convicted and sentenced to 116 years in federal prison. His appeal, which was heard by the U.S. Supreme Court on 29 November, will shape the life of every American for years to come – no matter which way it’s decided. The FBI found Timothy Carpenter because one of his accomplices told them about him. I believe the FBI could have obtained a search warrant to track Carpenter, if agents had applied for one. Instead, federal agents got cellphone location data not just for Carpenter, but for fifteen other people, most of whom were not charged with any crime. One of them could be you, and you’d likely never know it. The more people rely on external devices whose basic functions record and transmit important data about their lives, the more critical it becomes for everyone to have real protection for their private data stored on and communicated by these devices.

  • Broader gun restrictions reduce intimate partner homicides

    State laws that restrict gun ownership among domestic abusers and others with violent histories appear to significantly reduce intimate partner homicides, indicates a groundbreaking national study. The findings, which come on the heels of the Texas church massacre by a man with a history of domestic violence, suggest state laws with broader gun restrictions are more effective at preventing homicides among romantic partners – even if the laws do not exclusively target domestic abuse.

  • Middle Eastern countries pushed U.S. to attack Iran’s nuclear facilities: Kerry

    Former Secretary of State John Kerry on Tuesday said that that he Israel, Egypt, Saudi Arabia were pushing the United States to bomb Iran’s nuclear facilities rather than join other powers in signing the 2015 deal. Speaking at a Washington, D.C. forum, Kerry said he believed that Egypt and Saudi Arabia – and other Middle Eastern countries agitating for a U.S. military strike against Iran – would have publicly criticized the United States if it went ahead and attacked Iran.

  • Israel warned Assad it will take action to prevent Iran’s military presence in Syria

    Israel passed a message to Syrian president Bashar al-Assad through an intermediary that it would take military action in Syria if Iran is allowed to establish a permanent military presence in Syria. Israel has not intervened in the Syrian conflict, but has taken action to prevent the transfer of sophisticated weapons to Hezbollah and to prevent military infrastructure being established on its border.

  • What the latest FBI data do and do not tell us about hate crimes in the U.S.

    This November, the FBI released its annual report of hate crimes for 2016. Overall, the FBI data show that the rates of reported hate crimes in the U.S. have gone up slightly. But other evidence suggests that the actual number of hate crime incidents is likely even higher. Although the FBI’s data are likely inconclusive on the actual number of hate crimes, they do point to a troubling trend that hate crimes appear to be on the rise and remain vastly undocumented and unenforced. Without accurate federal data on hate crimes, we cannot know if federal and local law enforcement agencies are addressing the needs of all of their constituents. This is crucial, particularly given that the DOJ study shows that law enforcement agencies often fail to adequately prosecute perpetrators of hate crimes. Failure to record hate crimes leaves us guessing at the causes of the rise in anti-Muslim violence we’ve seen in the past year.

  • Proactive policing successful at reducing crime; role of racial bias unclear

    A number of strategies used by the police to proactively prevent crimes have proved to be successful at crime reduction, at least in the short term, and most strategies do not harm communities’ attitudes toward police, finds a new report by the National Academies of Sciences. However, the committee that conducted the study and wrote the report said there is insufficient evidence to draw strong conclusions on the potential role of racial bias in the use of proactive policing strategies.

  • Should we fear the rise of drone assassins? Two experts debate

    A new short film from the Campaign Against Killer Robots warns of a future where weaponized flying drones target and assassinate certain members of the public, using facial recognition technology to identify them. Is this a realistic threat that could rightly spur an effective ban on the technology? Or is it an overblown portrayal designed to scare governments into taking simplistic, unnecessary and ultimately futile action? Two academics offer their expert opinions.

  • Economically stressed white male gun owners: Emotionally attached to guns, likely to justify violence against U.S. government: Study

    White male gun owners who have lost, or fear losing, their economic footing tend to feel morally and emotionally attached to their guns, according to a Baylor University study. This segment of the population also is most likely to say that violence against the U.S. government is sometimes justified. “This speaks to the belief in some ‘dark state’ within the government which needs fighting,” says one researcher. “What’s paradoxical is that white male gun owners in the U.S. see themselves as hyper-patriotic, but they are the first to say, ‘If the government impedes me, I have the moral and almost patriotic right to fight back.’”

  • Reducing IED threats: Commercially available precursor chemicals should be better monitored

    Policymakers’ efforts to reduce threats from improvised explosive devices (IEDs) should include greater oversight of precursor chemicals sold at the retail level – especially over the internet – that terrorists, violent extremists, or criminals use to make homemade explosives, says a new report from the National Academies of Sciences. While retail sales of these precursor chemicals present a substantial vulnerability, they have not been a major focus of federal regulations so far.

  • Revolutionizing subterranean mapping and navigation

    Subterranean warfare—whether involving human-made tunnels, underground urban infrastructure, or natural cave networks—has been an element of U.S. military operations from the Second World War and Vietnam to Iraq and Afghanistan. As above-ground commercial and military intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities continue to grow more capable and ubiquitous, adversaries are increasingly heading underground to circumvent detection. Rapid global urbanization, furthermore, is accelerating the frequency and complexity of dangerous subterranean environments faced not just by warfighters, but also by emergency responders performing search-and-rescue missions underground: in collapsed mines, for instance, or municipal or urban settings wrecked by natural disaster. DARPA issues a Request for Information which seeks concepts for novel systems and component technologies to disruptively augment military and civilian operations underground.