August 15, 2017

National Geographic - How Humans Are Shaping Our Own Evolution 18min

The most intriguing part of the antenna, though, is that it gives him an ability the rest of us don’t have. He looked at the lamps on the roof deck and sensed that the infrared lights that activate them were off. He glanced at the planters and could “see” the ultraviolet markings that show where nectar is located at the centers of the flowers. He has not just matched ordinary human skills; he has exceeded them. ... He is, then, a first step toward the goal that visionary futurists have always had, an early example of what Ray Kurzweil in his well-known book The Singularity Is Near calls “the vast expansion of human potential.” ... But are we on the way to redefining how we evolve? Does evolution now mean not just the slow grind of natural selection spreading desirable genes, but also everything that we can do to amplify our powers and the powers of the things we make—a union of genes, culture, and technology? And if so, where is it taking us? ... Conventional evolution is alive and well in our species. Not long ago we knew the makeup of only a handful of the roughly 20,000 protein-encoding genes in our cells; today we know the function of about 12,000. But genes are only a tiny percentage of the DNA in our genome. More discoveries are certain to come—and quickly. From this trove of genetic information, researchers have already identified dozens of examples of relatively recent evolution. ... In our world now, the primary mover for reproductive success—and thus evolutionary change—is culture, and its weaponized cousin, technology. ... One human trait with a strong genetic component continues to increase in value, even more so as technology grows more dominant. The universal ambition of humanity remains greater intelligence.

Bloomberg - A Baccarat Binge Helped Launder the World’s Biggest Cyberheist 11min

As big as it was, the heist could have been a lot bigger. The hackers originally intended to funnel $951 million of Bangladesh Bank’s money into phony accounts, according to various investigations. Via Swift, they fired off a series of messages to the New York Fed to do just that. The theft of the full amount was only averted because, after the initial payments had been made, several transactions were flagged “for sanction compliance review,” ... Since then, Philippine authorities have recovered almost a fifth of the stolen money and returned it to Bangladesh, but most of the rest, after flowing through a series of accounts, a ­money-transfer company, and into local casinos, disappeared into the muggy Manila air. ... All but cut off from the world and hamstrung by sanctions imposed by the United Nations, the U.S., South Korea, and Japan, North Korea needs convertible currencies to finance imports, among other things. It uses a shifting array of agents, shipping companies, and brokers to bring in illicit cash

Politico - What’s It Like to See a Democracy Destroyed? 26min

What’s it like to watch a country implode? To see a democracy destroyed and an economy crater? ... Since 2014, American journalist Hannah Dreier has documented just that in Venezuela, once one of the world’s wealthiest nations and still home to what are believed to be the planet’s largest oil reserves. She wrote for the Associated Press about what it was like to live in a place with the world’s highest murder rate—and the world’s highest rate of inflation. About the breakdown of hospitals and schools, and how the obesity epidemic that plagued a rich country was quickly replaced with people so hungry they were rooting through the garbage on her doorstep. ... Most of the time, few paid attention, at least in part because Dreier was the last U.S. journalist even to get a work visa to live in Venezuela; when she moved there to cover the story, she says, “I felt like I had walked across a bridge as it was burning behind me.”

ESPN - Can bare-knuckle boxing, stripped of its seediness and danger, go mainstream? 10min

Bare-knuckle boxing in a plush theatre might seem incongruous, but the organizers' dream is a show at Wembley Stadium. By fiddling with the dials -- for example, knuckles are actually bandaged, not bare -- they hope to make bare-knuckle boxing a legitimate sport. But if it's no longer underground, seedy and dangerous, what is its point of difference? In a crowded combat sports market, will its spirit be suffocated and extinguished? ... While bare-knuckle boxing faded into antiquity in the United States after the introduction of gloves in the 1880s, it continued to thrive in dark nooks of the UK. It wasn't something you'd take your kids to see, but many of its practitioners -- men who preferred, to borrow a Johnny Cash lyric, "kicking and a' gouging in the mud and the blood and the beer" to the Queensberry Rules -- became underworld legends. ... Freeman concedes that there are those who believe BKB's version of bare-knuckle boxing is a poor imitation of the "real thing." There have also been death threats from gangsters, upset at the sport's transformation into a legitimate enterprise, which translates into less money for them.

Wired - Meet Alex, The Russian Casino Hacker Who Makes Millions 12min

They use phones to record video of a vulnerable machine in action, then transmit the footage to an office in St. Petersburg. There, Alex and his assistants analyze the video to determine when the games’ odds will briefly tilt against the house. They then send timing data to a custom app on an agent’s phone; this data causes the phones to vibrate a split second before the agent should press the “Spin” button. By using these cues to beat slots in multiple casinos, a four-person team can earn more than $250,000 a week. ... Determined to find a way to score one last payday before shutting down his enterprise, Alex reached out to Aristocrat Leisure, an Australian slot machine manufacturer whose vulnerable products have been his chief targets. ... ideally, a PRNG should approximate the utter unpredictability of radioactive decay.