Categories
Wired

Covid Vaccines in Phase III, New Risk Calculators, and More Coronavirus News

More vaccines enter Phase III trials, researchers continue to learn about the long-term impacts of Covid-19, and risk calculation becomes increasingly difficult as the country reopens. Here’s your week in coronavirus news: Want to receive this weekly roundup and other coronavirus news? Sign up here! Headlines The race for a vaccine continues at warp speed When it comes to vaccine development, there are two big issues on the table, according to WIRED’s Adam Rogers. First, you need to develop a safe vaccine that works. Then, “you need a communications strategy that explains exactly what the drug does and how it does it” so that people trust the vaccine enough to go get it. This week, there was plenty of hopeful news related to the first issue. New research found that a century-old tuberculosis shot could help protect against Covid-19, though more research is underway and won’t be completed until early 2021. Meanwhile, two more vaccines, from Novovax and Johnson & Johnson, entered Phase III trials. Unlike its competitors, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine doesn’t need to be frozen and only requires one dose, giving it a leg up. In all likelihood, there will eventually be several viable vaccines, all of which will be necessary in order to make sure everyone is protected worldwide. Though, as Roxanne Khamsi notes, the fact that most vaccines are being developed in wealthy countries means they might not work as well for people from poorer nations. Once Americans have a vaccine, how will the public…Continue readingCovid Vaccines in Phase III, New Risk Calculators, and More Coronavirus News

Categories
Wired

The Best Chrome Extensions to Prevent Creepy Web Tracking

Almost every site you visit tracks you to try and link your browsing history to your interests and, in turn, show you targeted adverts. One minute you’re searching for a new desk, the next adverts for that furniture website you looked at are stalking you around the web WIRED UK This story originally appeared on WIRED UK. If you want to get a sense of how you’re being tracked across the web take a little time to read (and disable) the cookie options that appear each time you visit a new site. They’ll give you a sense of what technology each website is using to track its visitors and the information they gather. (The consent preferences on WIRED are controlled by parent company Condé Nast). With the Do Not Tracking setting in browsers becoming increasingly useless, web browsers are increasingly flexing their privacy credentials Apple’s Safari browser has boosted its anti-tracking tech and Firefox has blocked trackers by default since 2018. Google Chrome is also planning on getting rid of third-party cookies. However this won’t happen until 2022 and there are still significant questions about how the change will be implemented. In the meantime, your best best for stopping creepy web tracking is to move to a privacy-first web browser. For some people this step might be too radical or impractical at the moment. If that’s you, there’s another way to push back against online tracking: bring the blocking tech to your current browser. These browser extensions are a simple…Continue readingThe Best Chrome Extensions to Prevent Creepy Web Tracking

Categories
Wired

How Teachers Can Foster Community in Online Classrooms

The school year is difficult for both teachers and students, to say the least. Some districts are using a hybrid of remote and in-person learning, while others are on Zoom entirely. And that means teachers are stretched thin and unable to build community with their students, and classmates are unable to get to know their peers well. But there are some choices you can make to combat that. Melanie Gottdenger, a New York-based seventh-grade teacher in a selective middle school, said that “studies show that strong communities produce more holistically successful people—rather than students who can ace a test or become a doctor, education professionals are starting to understand that the humanity in us all is what makes our world better, and proves our “success” as teachers. These tools can be used in a variety of places, with your class, business, or community. What Not to Do Some educators have resorted to Draconian tactics to be certain that their students are paying attention and doing their work, like the Black seventh-grader in Colorado who was suspended and now has a record with the local sheriff after a teacher called the police because he was playing with a toy gun. Other teachers use Orwellian eye-scanning software that tracks if students eyes are wandering: According to the Washington Post, when schools use online proctor companies like ProctorU, if students “look off-screen for four straight seconds more than two times in a single minute, the motion will be flagged as a suspect event…Continue readingHow Teachers Can Foster Community in Online Classrooms

Categories
Wired

Facebook Busts Russian Disinfo Networks as US Election Looms

Facebook announced on Thursday that it has taken down three “coordinated inauthentic behavior” networks promoting disinformation that included nearly 300 Facebook and Instagram accounts along with dozens of Facebook Pages and Groups. While the efforts were seemingly run independently, and focused primarily outside of the US, each has ties to Russian intelligence—and they collectively provide a sobering echo of the social media assault that roiled the 2016 election. The networks Facebook tackled dated back at least three years, but most had few followers at the time they were caught. They primarily promoted non-Facebook websites in an apparent effort to get around the platform’s detection mechanisms, focusing on news and current events, particularly geopolitics. They targeted users in a number of countries, including Syria, Ukraine, Turkey, Japan, the UK, and Belarus, as well as the United States to a lesser extent. Given Russia’s impact through digital influence operations during the 2016 United States presidential race and in democratic elections around the world, state and federal officials and researchers—not to mention tech companies—have been bracing for activity in the US during 2020. Earlier this month, Microsoft announced that it had caught Russia’s Fancy Bear hackers targeting hundreds of campaign-adjacent organizations. Facebook warned repeatedly on Thursday that despite the successful takedown, it’s still bracing for whatever might come next. “It’s not new. These are tactics and techniques we’ve seen before,” Nathaniel Gleicher, Facebook’s head of security policy said on a Thursday call with reporters. “But the increasing reliance of these actors on these…Continue readingFacebook Busts Russian Disinfo Networks as US Election Looms

Categories
Wired

The Ring Always Home Cam Flies Around Inside Your House

Tech product launches in the year of 2020 involve a kind of perspective whiplash that makes it more difficult than usual to decide whether or not you really need the thing. There’s the consideration of whether the gadget fits into your life right now, at a time when our needs have changed considerably. There’s also the fact that most of the products launching this year were dreamt up in 2019 or earlier. Back then, tech companies had a different vision of the future in mind, or at least different ideas of what the “lifestyle” images in their 2020 product marketing kits would look like. We all did. Do you need a fully autonomous surveillance drone for inside your home? At this point I am going to say no. And yet, around fourteen months ago, someone—or someones—at Amazon wrote up a future press release for a multi-camera drone that flies from room to room in your home, surveilling your abode from overhead. The drone was announced today at Amazon’s annual hardware event, typically a rapid-fire release of new Echo products, Alexa updates, and the occasional gadget oddity, like a talking microwave. Other than this year’s Amazon event being virtual, it was similar to years past. There’s a new orb-shaped Echo speaker, and an Echo Show with a swiveling screen. But it was the Ring drone that stole the show, because it demonstrated just how far Amazon is willing to go to get into every space in your home. Come Fly With…Continue readingThe Ring Always Home Cam Flies Around Inside Your House

Categories
Wired

Federal Executions During Covid-19 Put Innocent Lives at Risk

Christopher Vialva grew up on death row. In 1999, at age 19, Vialva, along with a few other teenagers, carjacked and killed Stacie and Todd Bagley; he was later convicted of murder and sentenced to die. At the time, a doctor assessed his mental age to be 16. He was nearly illiterate, struggling to read a short paragraph and unable to remember the first sentence by the time he got to the last. In the two decades he spent in custody, he became an avid crocheter and a student of the Old Testament in the original Hebrew. When his lawyer, Susan Otto, asked why he wanted President Trump to grant him clemency he said, “I would like to preach and teach and learn. I think I can help. I remember what it was like being a 19-year-old kid with your thoughts all over the place and not having a clue what to do next. I think I could talk to kids and keep them from coming back [to prison] time after time.” Today, just before 7pm local time, the federal government executed him. Vialva is the first Black man to die in a wave of federal executions recently set off by US Attorney General William Barr, the first such use of capital punishment in 17 years. Vialva’s mother and legal team traveled to a federal facility in Terre Haute, Indiana for his execution despite the Covid-19 pandemic. “I may contract the virus,” Otto says. “It’s my duty to represent him.…Continue readingFederal Executions During Covid-19 Put Innocent Lives at Risk

Categories
Wired

Alexa Now Has Its Own Questions for You

When Amazon released the Echo smart speaker in 2014, people still marveled at the convenience of voice-controlled computing. Now that the novelty has worn off, they are more likely to grumble about how often Alexa gets confused. Now, Amazon has a plan to make Alexa smarter—with you as the teacher. For some commands, Alexa will soon seek clarification if it gets confused. Ask to set the lights to “reading mode,” for example, and the device will politely inquire what that means. You might specify that you want the lights set to 40 percent intensity. Alexa will then “learn” this preference and store it away for future reference. Amazon says the feature will be made available “in coming months.” It might not seem like much, but figuring out when to seek clarification requires considerable artificial intelligence, and it’s a step towards having machines learn from humans on the fly. “The ability for clarification will be a fundamental property of any good conversational artificial agent,” says Roger Levy, a professor at MIT who specializes in AI and linguistics. He says knowing when to ask questions—and knowing what questions to ask—will be crucial for more advanced AI systems. However Levy notes that making this feel natural can be a tricky balancing act: “You’ll drive users crazy if you always ask for clarification too much.” The Secret to Machine Learning? Human Teachers For now, Alexa will only seek to clarify commands related to connected smart home devices such as thermostats and lights. But Rohit…Continue readingAlexa Now Has Its Own Questions for You

Categories
Wired

A Trump-Biden Debate Without Climate Change Is Inexcusable

A brief sample of recent climate news: record-setting heat waves, including a 121-degree day in Los Angeles; apocalyptic wildfires up and down the West Coast, killing dozens and draping much of the continent in smoke; an August derecho that laid waste to much of the state of Iowa; five tropical cyclones forming at once in the Atlantic for only the second time in recorded history. Oh, and a new report finding that the consequences of rising temperatures are likely to be even worse than prior predictions. Don’t expect any of that to come up when Joe Biden and Donald Trump take the stage for the first presidential debate next week. On Tuesday, the debate’s moderator, Fox News host Chris Wallace, announced his planned list of topics. It includes the Covid pandemic, the Supreme Court, and the economy, but you will search in vain for any mention of the environment or climate change. To which I say, on behalf of humanity: You have got to be kidding me. Counting the time devoted to climate change in presidential debates has become a fatalistic, every-four-years ritual, like rooting for England in the World Cup. The moderators didn’t ask a single question about climate change during the three 2016 debates between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump; according to Grist, the topic was discussed for about five and a half minutes total, mostly in passing. Somehow, 2012 was even worse: zero minutes on climate change. (The 2000 debates were a relative high-water mark, featuring 14…Continue readingA Trump-Biden Debate Without Climate Change Is Inexcusable

Categories
Wired

We Need to Talk About Talking About QAnon

We need to talk about talking about QAnon. So far, news coverage has focused on describing the phenomenon, debunking its most outrageous claims, and discussing its real-world consequences. The problem is, even after all the explainers, debunks, and stakes-laying, QAnon hasn’t receded in popularity—it’s exploded. Not talking about it is no longer an option, so we need to find a way to talk about it better. That means zeroing in on the movement’s social and technological causes to explain what’s happening for people who don’t believe in QAnon, offer an alternative explanation for those who do, and point toward broader, structural solutions. SUBSCRIBE Subscribe to WIRED and stay smart with more of your favorite Ideas writers. The core of the QAnon theory is that Donald Trump is waging a war against a Satanic, child-molesting cabal of top Democrats. QAnon dovetails with the more secular “deep state” narrative, which claims that holdovers from the Obama administration are secretly conspiring to destroy Trump’s presidency from within. Deep-state theories—whether or not the term “deep state” is used—animate the false claim that Democrats and public health experts are in cahoots to exaggerate or outright lie about the Covid-19 threat in order to tank the economy and ensure Biden’s victory. Recently Trump has been tinkering with this narrative as a post-election incendiary device: If he loses, he’s almost certain to blame the deep state for his administration’s failures. QAnon has spun off the “Save the Children” movement, too, which purports to be opposed to child…Continue readingWe Need to Talk About Talking About QAnon

Categories
Wired

California Plans to Ban Sales of Gas-Powered Cars by 2035

California governor Gavin Newsom signed an executive order Wednesday that sets an ambitious plan to eliminate sales of gas-powered cars and trucks in the state by 2035. The order, the nation’s first that would ban gasoline engines, directs the state’s Air Resources Board to draft rules to require the sales of more electric-powered vehicles. “This is the most impactful step our state can take to fight climate change,” Newsom said at a press conference. California has had a monstrous few weeks. Starting in August, freak lightning storms, errant campfires, and a gender reveal party ignited fast-racing wildfires across the state, which blanketed homes outside the firelines with ash and turned the skies above the Bay Area a dusky tangerine. Heat waves have buffeted the West Coast, with California’s Death Valley hitting 130 degrees Fahrenheit, the third-highest temperature ever recorded on Earth. At least 25 people have died in western wildfires this season. Oh, plus global pandemic. “This is a climate damn emergency,” Newsom said earlier this month as he surveyed the damage from one fire. “This is real and it’s happening. This is the perfect storm.” Wednesday, Newsom outlined a plan to turn the emergency into action. Transportation accounts for 40 percent of the state’s greenhouse gas emissions, and is a major source of the air pollution that leads to asthma, heart disease, and lung cancer. A report published earlier this year found the state is not on track to meet its 2030 emission goals—but that reducing the number of…Continue readingCalifornia Plans to Ban Sales of Gas-Powered Cars by 2035