Episode 194: Mass Bioterrorism, Runaway Artificial Intelligence, and Other Romps with Rob Reid

Our interview this week is with Rob Reid, author of After On and Year Zero, two books that manage to translate serious technology nightmares into science fiction romps.  We cover a lot of ground: synbio and giving eighth graders the tools for mass human extinction, the possibility that artificial intelligence will achieve takeoff and begin to act counter to humanity’s interests in a matter of hours. Along the way, we consider the possibility that the first AI will arise from a social media behemoth and will devote its exponential power to maximizing human hookups.

In the news, we explore the massive PR disaster that is the Uber data breach and reach the surprising conclusion that the whole thing may turn out worse in the media than in the courts.  Except in the EU, Maury Shenk reminds me.  Europe just hates Uber viscerally.  So much so that Jim Lewis suggests the company’s EU subsidiary will soon have to be renamed Unter.

Actually, it’s not just Uber the EU hates.  It’s all things technological, at least to judge by the European Parliament’s latest plan to use export controls to cripple technology companies whose products can be misused by authoritarian governments.

I note the release of the ODNI’s report on the intelligence community’s “masking” of US identities in intel reports.  We talk about the temptation to weaponized unmasking during transitions, and I ask why the “Gates procedures” that provide special protection for unmasking of Congressional identities shouldn’t also be used to protect Presidential transition teams.

Jim and I discuss Russia’s imposition of constraints on Radio Free Europe that match the new restrictions on RT in the US.  Jim and I struggle toward a Universal Theory of Putin as Overrated Global Troll.

Remember those Chinese “security” cameras deployed by US agencies that we covered in the last episode?  Yeah, it’s worse than you thought: the Chinese are getting close to identifying everyone caught on camera using gait and facial recognition.

I note that Sen. Wyden (D-OR) has another campaign underway to imply that the Justice Department is imposing decryption assistance requirements under FISA without judicial review.  In fact, if there is such an effort, the company on the receiving end already has a judicial remedy.  And Maury explains that the head of Germany’s new cybersecurity agency is joining the German government chorus arguing for “hack back,” but only by the German government.

My candidate for Dumbest Public Policy Battle of the Season:  The complaint that someone faked a bunch of meaningless, content-free comments on net neutrality.  The problem is really the idea that the policy debate should be influenced by counting votes in the World’s Skeeviest Online Poll, an idea that seems to have sparked a kind of bot arms race between supporters and opponents of the FCC’s policy.

And my candidate for Coolest Technology Story of the Season:  Feeding graphene to spiders and discovering that it greatly strengthens their webs.  Every fifteen-year-old science fair participant should take heart: It turns out that with great quantities of graphene comes great responsibility.

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The views expressed in this podcast are those of the speakers and do not reflect the opinions of the firm.