By Prarthana Mitra
From spying Alexa to the possibility of a new ninth planet, this has been a week of revelations in the world of science and tech. As the ethical tussle with bots and free speech continues, several non-profits have recently come forward with arguments in favour of online transparency. Agriculture may soon shift entirely to the domain of robot-farming, as machines grow adept at planting and picking food crops. Here are a few science and technology stories you may have missed last week.
Amazon! Echo recorded and sent audio to random contacts
Amazon! Echo recorded and sent private audio messages without any instruction or warning to friends of an Oregon couple last week, according to reports by KIRO-7. Amazon confirmed the incident and apologized profusely for the glitch, but has reportedly refused to issue a refund, calling it “a rare occurrence.”
It is still not clear how the device activated itself, interpreted the background conversation as commands to record and send a message before selecting and confirming a recipient- or how those prompts went unheard. However, this clearly suggests a breach of user privacy, especially in light of Amazon’s plans to turn Alexa into an ad-generation, recommendation making device in the long run.
— CNN (@CNN) May 26, 2018
The solar system may get a ninth planet again, and no it’s not Pluto
A new planetary candidate has presented itself to researchers in the form of an “Extreme Trans-Neptunian Object”, a mysterious, unspotted and classified celestial body hiding deep in the outer reaches of the solar system. The strange and anomalous orbit of 2015 BP519, a recently discovered celestial body, leads researchers to attribute it to the gravity of a distant ninth planet that could be up to four times the size of Earth, and ten times as dense. It would be exceptionally difficult to actually spot it, but given what we know about the mathematics of the solar system, it is the most likely reason for the strange behaviour of objects like 2015 BP519.
A provocative theory about the presence of a ninth planet in our solar system has received new support. Researchers have found an object that may have been shepherded into an odd orbit by Planet 9’s gravitational pull.https://t.co/B10QPqdt1v pic.twitter.com/yVbYxfgXEi
— Quanta Magazine (@QuantaMagazine) May 18, 2018
The case for free speech for bots
A nonprofit focused on interactions between children and media and technology recently claimed that Facebook and Twitter are platforms to around 100 million bot accounts which are wreaking havoc online, precisely because they are not obligated to reveal their identity. With this in mind, Common Sense Media is now demanding free speech rights for bots, the same First Amendment rights as humans in America. California Senator Hertzberg proposes the Online Transparency Act that would require bots to identify themselves as such, adding, “Autonomous speech from A.I. like bots may make the freedom of speech a more difficult value to defend, but if we don’t stick to our values when they are tested, they aren’t values.” Backed by another non-profit Electronic Freedom Foundation (EFF), the cause of free speech for A.I.’s is being championed to help sift through fake news and ill advice.
Farming made easy with robots that sow and harvest
Robot-farming has reached a new milestone with development of machines that can plant about 2600 saplings in an hour. Autonomous and agile, these robots, developed by Ad Vermeer’s team at Ceresco, work at a faster rate than a human being.
Usually, delicate jobs such as transferring new plant cuttings and saplings to soil pots, or picking crops like asparagus, are left to green fingers. With this cutting-edge technology, robots that are equipped with artificial intelligence, cameras, electric signal and conveyors belts can carry out the same work that once required ten-twelve workers. In fact, white asparagus-picking robots could replace 70-80 workers informs Marck Strik, proprietor of leading Flemish agricultural service Florensis.
Prarthana Mitra is a staff writer at Qrius.
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