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Technology

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Will Algorithms Erode Our Decision-Making Skills?

Feb 8, 2017

Algorithms are embedded into our technological lives, helping accomplish a variety of tasks like making sure that email makes it to your aunt or that you're matched to someone on a dating website who likes the same bands as you.

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Political statements are easy to see when they're on signs or buttons or in tweets. But then there are those that are hidden from view, until you log in to the right place. For example, when you look for new Wi-Fi networks to get online.

President Trump's supporters and opponents have expanded their battlefield even to the choice of their own Wi-Fi names — identifying their networks according to what they think of the president. Examples range from the F-word followed by Trump's name to the acronym "MAGA Wi-Fi," which stands for "Make America Great Again Wi-Fi."

Preventing banned users from creating new accounts and changing its search tool to minimize blocked accounts are among the new steps Twitter is taking to prevent "the most prevalent and damaging forms of behavior" on its social media platform.

The moves come months after Twitter gave its users new ways to mute and report abusive posts, as NPR's Alina Selyukh reported in November.

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

I'm Robert Siegel with All Tech Considered.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

Don't expect balloons and singing at a cryptoparty.

Attendees are interested in being a bit on the quieter side.

In an effort to foil corporations and governments collecting data, privacy advocates and political activists have been organizing cryptoparties since 2012, when the phenomenon began in Australia.

Apple, Facebook, Google and Microsoft are among 97 tech companies that filed court papers supporting a challenge to President Trump's ban on immigration from seven majority-Muslim nations, calling the executive order unlawful, discriminatory and arbitrary and saying that it would hurt their businesses.

Trump's executive order enacting the ban "has had immediate, adverse effects on the employees of American businesses," the companies say, warning that the ban also poses long-term risks.

When Trump Tweets, This Bot Makes Money

Feb 4, 2017

President Donald Trump tweeted on Monday that the chaos in airports over the weekend was Delta Airlines' fault—along with protesters and "the tears of Senator [Chuck] Schumer."

He sent those tweets a little after 7 a.m. By 9:30 a.m., Delta Airlines' stock was down 1.6 percent.

Meanwhile, an algorithm was raking in money from those tweets.

The day my dad first got Snapchat, he couldn't figure out how to send photos.

And when he approached me later that day, asking if I had gotten his snap, my siblings and I discovered he'd been sending all his photos to Team Snapchat, expecting them to do the rerouting.

We all laughed about the fact that he just didn't get it.

But my dad doesn't seem to be the only one.

For some time, the public has known that Donald Trump does a lot of his tweeting himself, from the account @realDonaldTrump, and from an Android smartphone. But many cybersecurity experts believed that would change once Trump took the oath of office, because White House-approved communication devices are much more secured — and stripped down — than the smartphones the rest of us use.

One of the problems with bats, if you're a robotics expert, is that they have so many joints.

That's what robotics researchers at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and Caltech quickly learned when they set out to build a robot version of the flying mammal.

Editor's note: This story contains references to child pornography that some readers may find disturbing.

It's tempting to think of Facebook as pure entertainment — the dumb game you play when your boss looks away, or your date goes to the bathroom. But that's underestimating how powerful the Facebook empire has become. For some, the app is more important than a driver's license. People need it to contact colleagues, or even start and build businesses.

When a 2014 Forbes cover featured a grinning cofounder of Snapchat, the accompanying text described CEO Evan Spiegel as "the 23-year-old who told Zuckerberg to take his $3 billion and shove it." Snapchat had just turned away Facebook's acquisition offer, which was triple the amount the social network paid for Instagram in 2012.

For some users, the platform is more important than having a driver's license. They use Facebook to make a living, but they find the rules change often, and the company boots people out without a clear reason or appeals process. As CEO Mark Zuckerberg undertakes his Middle America tour this year, he may have the opportunity to confront the realities of Facebook's economic impact on others.

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

It was a dramatic market entry for the iPhone 7 last year. Many Apple customers grumbled when Apple took away the headphone jack and gave everyone an adapter to plug earbuds into the Lightning, or charging, connector.

But everyone seems to have adjusted. Apple sold 78 million iPhones over the holiday season.

Imagine that one day you're kicked off Facebook. It happens, regularly. You may not know why exactly. It looks like an algorithm may have done it — and now you need to reach a human being at the company to get back on. NPR has interviewed more than two dozen users in that situation — all people who rely on Facebook to do their work, make their living.

Their stories, which we'll share in a separate article, made us wonder: If you needed to reach Facebook, what would you do?

Many people would go online and search for "Facebook customer service."

An archaeologist has launched a citizen science project that invites anyone with an Internet connection to help look for evidence of archaeological site looting.

Alphabet, the parent company of Google, is among the tech firms that are critical of the Trump administration's executive order barring Muslim immigrants from certain countries. This weekend, Google co-founder Sergey Brin took part in protests at the San Francisco International Airport.

In elementary school, you learn there are three branches of the federal government. But if you had looked on the new Donald Trump White House website before Monday morning, you would have only seen two: the executive and legislative.

This is a guest post from WNYC's Note to Self podcast, which explores the effects of technology on our lives. Its week-long Privacy Paradox Project starts on Feb. 6 and you can sign up below or on the WNYC website.

You know how you should behave online. You should have strong passwords. You should think carefully before you post. And you should read the privacy policy before you click "Agree."

There's a problem in Silicon Valley. The problem is diversity. Companies know this. They're trying to work on it.

A couple of our reporters started looking into why gender diversity in the tech industry is so dismal, and their quest took them back to the year 1984.

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Leaders of major technology companies here in the U.S. are criticizing President Trump's executive order that bans immigrants from some Muslim countries. As NPR's Laura Sydell reports, there are growing concerns that the order is going to hurt business.

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Was it the maid, the lover or the lover's partner who killed glamorous socialite Emily French with a candlestick? If this sounds like an Agatha Christie plot, it is.

Christie's novella-turned-play The Witness for the Prosecution — set in 1920s London — has been adapted into a new TV show, starring Sex and the City's Kim Cattrall as the murder victim.

A tiny self-propelled drug-delivery device might someday make taking antibiotics safer and more efficient. Think of it as a tiny submarine scooting around inside your stomach, fueled by the acid there.

Oral antibiotics are commonly prescribed life-saving drugs. Once an antibiotic is swallowed, it takes a trip to the stomach, where there's lots of acid. That stomach acid can break chemical bonds in the antibiotic and deactivate it.

Copyright 2017 WGBH Radio. To see more, visit WGBH Radio.

"Rogue" accounts that have the look of those by real federal agencies are spreading like wildfire on Twitter.

The AltUSNatParkService Twitter account has gained more than 1 million followers and inspired the creation of many more "unofficial resistance" accounts for specific national parks and other entities, including accounts like Rogue NASA and AltUSForestService.

While the world becomes more wired through laptops, tablets and mobile phones, a mountain of electronic waste — or e-waste — is also growing. The greatest contributor to that stock of e-waste is Asia, according to a report published last week from United Nations University.

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