June 30, 2017

Smithsonian - A Visit to Seoul Brings Our Writer Face-to-Face With the Future of Robots 17min

Striving for perfection in mind, body and spirit is a Korean way of life, and the cult of endless self-improvement begins as early as the hagwons, the cram schools that keep the nation’s children miserable and sleep-deprived, and sends a sizable portion of the population under the plastic surgeon’s knife. ... I have come to South Korea to find out just how close humanity is to transforming everyday life by relying on artificial intelligence and the robots that increasingly possess it, and by insinuating smart technology into every aspect of life, bit by bit. Fifty years ago, the country was among the poorest on earth, devastated after a war with North Korea. Today South Korea feels like an outpost from the future, while its conjoined twin remains trapped inside a funhouse mirror, unable to function as a modern society, pouring everything it has into missile tests and bellicose foreign policy. Just 35 miles south of the fragile DMZ, you’ll find bins that ask you (very politely) to fill them with trash, and automated smart apartments that anticipate your every need. ... The automation of society seems to feed directly into the longing for perfection; a machine will simply do things better and more efficiently, whether scanning your license plate or annihilating you at a Go tournament. ... the mood is not one of luxury and happy success but of exhaustion and insecurity.

Vanity Fair - How Wells Fargo’s Cutthroat Corporate Culture Allegedly Drove Bankers to Fraud 20min

That first year, the National Bank of Washington was swallowed up by Pacific National Bank of Seattle, which in 1981 was bought by Los Angeles-based First Interstate Bancorp, which in 1996 was bought by San Francisco-based Wells Fargo, which in 1999—as the consolidation frenzy was reaching its peak—merged with Norwest, a Minneapolis-based bank, in a $34 billion deal. ... Wells Fargo, which was founded in 1852 as a stagecoach express to carry valuable goods to and from the gold mines in the West, had a storied brand, so the new, combined company kept that name. But if Norwest’s name didn’t survive, its corporate culture did. ... In Kovacevich’s lingo, bank branches were “stores,” and bankers were “salespeople” whose job was to “cross-sell,” which meant getting “customers”—not “clients,” but “customers”—to buy as many products as possible. ... Achieving sales goals wasn’t easy. ... Wells Fargo’s own analysis found that between 2011 and 2015 its employees had opened more than 1.5 million deposit accounts and more than 565,000 credit-card accounts that may not have been authorized. Some customers were charged fees on accounts they didn’t know they had, and some customers had collection agencies calling them due to unpaid fees on accounts they didn’t know existed. Gaming was so widespread that it had even spawned related terms, such as “pinning,” which meant assigning customers personal-identification numbers, or PINs, without their knowledge in order to impersonate them on Wells Fargo computers and enroll them in various products without their knowledge. ... The quotas for the bankers at Guitron’s branch totaled 12,000 Daily Solutions each year, including almost 3,000 new checking accounts. Without fraud, the math didn’t work.

Wired - How An Entire Nation Became Russia's Test Lab For Cyberwar 24min

The Cyber-Cassandras said this would happen. For decades they warned that hackers would soon make the leap beyond purely digital mayhem and start to cause real, physical damage to the world. ... Now, in Ukraine, the quintessential cyberwar scenario has come to life. Twice. On separate occasions, invisible saboteurs have turned off the electricity to hundreds of thousands of people. Each blackout lasted a matter of hours, only as long as it took for scrambling engineers to manually switch the power on again. But as proofs of concept, the attacks set a new precedent: In Russia’s shadow, the decades-old nightmare of hackers stopping the gears of modern society has become a reality. ... And the blackouts weren’t just isolated attacks. They were part of a digital blitzkrieg that has pummeled Ukraine for the past three years—a sustained cyber­assault unlike any the world has ever seen. A hacker army has systematically undermined practically every sector of Ukraine: media, finance, transportation, military, politics, energy. Wave after wave of intrusions have deleted data, destroyed computers, and in some cases paralyzed organizations’ most basic functions. ... In a public statement in December, Ukraine’s president, Petro Poroshenko, reported that there had been 6,500 cyberattacks on 36 Ukrainian targets in just the previous two months.

Fast Company - Spotify’s Plan To Win Over Anxious Artists–And Win The Streaming War 13min

Amid a slow growth in royalty payouts, Spotify is investing in a range of projects aimed at keeping artists happy, mostly by leveraging the company’s huge goldmine of listener data. The effort includes new metrics tools for musicians, steadily improving fan targeting, and a range of curated and algorithmic playlists to help artists reach new listeners. ... Spotify’s artist-focused initiatives aren’t sheer acts of generosity, of course: They also have a direct bearing on the company’s future success as a business. The Stockholm-based firm, last valued at $8 billion in 2015, boasts 50 million paying subscribers but steep losses ever since it was founded a decade ago. And the competition, which increasingly comes from tech giants like Apple, Google, and Amazon, is fierce. ... The more indispensable Spotify becomes to creatives, the stronger its leverage in negotiations with record labels. The company is currently in the long-awaited process of renegotiating deals with labels and rights holders, who are anxious for better terms. But like every other streaming platform, it’s eager to shift the basic math of the new music economy further in its own favor

HCN - Busting the tree ring 17min

Cutting bigleaf maple is generally legal, with the right permits, on private and state land in Washington. In national forests, however, protections on old growth keep the tree strictly off-limits. But in Gifford Pinchot, the law’s arm didn’t reach too far. Malamphy, who’d served as an officer with the U.S. Forest Service since 2000, patrolled the Cowlitz Valley Ranger District, a rough triangle formed by Mount Adams, Mount Rainier and Mount St. Helens. His jurisdiction covered 575,000 acres — one cop, responsible for an area almost twice the size of Los Angeles. He cruised the woods alone in a Dodge pickup, inspecting meth paraphernalia dumps, checking hunting licenses, conducting traffic stops. In some ways, the job has changed little since the early 20th century, when Pinchot himself dispatched a ragged band of recruits to help a strange new agency called the Forest Service wrangle illegal loggers and miners. Everyone Malamphy met in the woods carried a gun or a knife, and usually both. Backup was hours away. In 2008, a Forest Service officer was murdered by a tree-trimmer down a remote road on the Olympic Peninsula. Malamphy was a tough customer — he had an offensive lineman’s physique, and hands that could crack walnuts. Still, he kept his Glock .40 close. ... Forest Service documents suggest that tree thievery costs the agency up to $100 million each year.