How a ragtag group of young coders skirted the studio and created a pop culture sensation that's still standing two decades later ... The marketing was hitting all the right notes, including on the Internet – even if no one noticed or cared. A few blocks from the flagship Warners store, up on the 29th floor of 1375 Avenue of the Americas, a group of five outcasts, working out of cramped cubicles and closets that doubled as office space, had cranked out what would become, over the next two decades, one of the most beloved websites ever made. At a time when asking to put a web address on a movie poster usually produced blank stares and then exasperated sighs, the site pushed all the limits of web development. There were inside jokes alongside animated GIFs, Easter eggs to be found and virtual reality 360s ahead of their time. It was free-flowing, unsupervised, guerrilla design work, all being done under the umbrella of one of the largest entertainment companies on the planet. ... The site lay more-or-less dormant for the next 14 years. But that changed for good in late 2010, when the Internet, exponentially bigger than it was in 1996, rediscovered the site – almost entirely unchanged from its initial launch. It was reborn as a viral sensation, the web's equivalent of a recently discovered cave painting.
He says it’s a self-driving car that he had built in about a month. The claim seems absurd. But when I turn up that morning, in his garage there’s a white 2016 Acura ILX outfitted with a laser-based radar (lidar) system on the roof and a camera mounted near the rearview mirror. A tangle of electronics is attached to a wooden board where the glove compartment used to be, a joystick protrudes where you’d usually find a gearshift, and a 21.5-inch screen is attached to the center of the dash. “Tesla only has a 17-inch screen,” Hotz says. ... Hotz was the first person to hack Apple’s iPhone, allowing anyone—well, anyone with a soldering iron and some software smarts—to use the phone on networks other than AT&T’s. He later became the first person to run through a gantlet of hard-core defense systems in the Sony PlayStation 3 and crack that open, too. ... The technology he’s building represents an end run on much more expensive systems being designed by Google, Uber, the major automakers, and, if persistent rumors and numerous news reports are true, Apple. More short term, he thinks he can challenge Mobileye, the Israeli company that supplies Tesla Motors, BMW, Ford Motor, General Motors, and others with their current driver-assist technology. ... Hotz plans to best the Mobileye technology with off-the-shelf electronics. He’s building a kit consisting of six cameras—similar to the $13 ones found in smartphones—that would be placed around the car. ... The goal is to sell the camera and software package for $1,000 a pop either to automakers or, if need be, directly to consumers who would buy customized vehicles at a showroom run by Hotz. ... There are two breakthroughs that make Hotz’s system possible. The first comes from the rise in computing power since the days of the Grand Challenge. He uses graphics chips that normally power video game consoles to process images pulled in by the car’s camera and speedy Intel chips to run his AI calculations. ... The second advance is deep learning, an AI technology that has taken off over the past few years. It allows researchers to assign a task to computers and then sit back as the machines in essence teach themselves how to accomplish and finally master the job. ... Instead of the hundreds of thousands of lines of code found in other self-driving vehicles, Hotz’s software is based on about 2,000 lines.
- Also: BuzzFeed - Google's Cute Cars And The Ugly End Of Driving < 5min
- Also: MIT Technology Review - A Car That Knows What the Driver Will Do Next < 5min
- Also: The Atlantic - How Many Lives Will Driverless Cars Save? < 5min
- Also: Bloomberg - Can Detroit Beat Google to the Self-Driving Car? 5-15min
- Also: Marginal Revolution - Three counterintuitive scenarios for driverless vehicles < 5min
- Also: The New York Times - The Dream Life of Driverless Cars 5-15min
- Also: The Verge - Inside Faraday Future, the secretive car company chasing Tesla 5-15min
- Also: The Atlantic - The High-Stakes Race to Rid the World of Human Drivers 5-15min
- Also: Wall Street Journal - Could Self-Driving Cars Spell the End of Ownership? < 5min
As America switches from an industrial economy to a digital one, its bluest collar workers are facing the toughest challenge of their lives. Can miners really learn how to code? ... coal is basically over. The federal government has pumped nearly $23 million into the region in the last two years to diversify the post-coal economy and retrain miners into jobs like installing broadband fiber. But until there’s some serious new high-paying option, most ex-mine workers are getting by on unemployment, taking lower paying jobs, moving away, or, as one put it to me, “going into panic mode.” ... The job, they determined, would start with a 22-week training program to learn how to code. Trainees would be paid $15 an hour, which came from federal funds pumped through a regional economic development agency. That’s less than miner wages, but it was better than working at the McDonald’s double-lane drive-thru downtown. Then, after those 22 weeks, Justice and Parrish would put up three dollars for every one from the government and build a coding team that could take on real, paying work. ... Most had heard the program’s radio ad. “Have you been laid off from a job in the mining industry? If you are a logic-based thinker willing to work and learn new things, we have a career opportunity for you. BitSource is bringing the computer coding revolution to Eastern Kentucky.”
It took years for the Internet to reach its first 100 computers. Today, 100 new ones join each second. And running deep within the silicon souls of most of these machines is the work of a technical wizard of remarkable power, a man described as a genius and a bully, a spiritual leader and a benevolent dictator. ... Linus Torvalds — who in person could be mistaken for just another paunchy, middle-aged suburban dad who happens to have a curiously large collection of stuffed penguin dolls — looms over the future of computing much as Bill Gates and the late Steve Jobs loom over its past and present. For Linux, the operating system that Torvalds created and named after himself, has come to dominate the exploding online world, making it more popular overall than rivals from Microsoft and Apple. ... But while Linux is fast, flexible and free, a growing chorus of critics warn that it has security weaknesses that could be fixed but haven’t been. Worse, as Internet security has surged as a subject of international concern, Torvalds has engaged in an occasionally profane standoff with experts on the subject. ... Linux has thrived in part because of Torvalds’s relentless focus on performance and reliability, both of which could suffer if more security features were added. Linux works on almost any chip in the world and is famously stable as it manages the demands of many programs at once, allowing computers to hum along for years at a time without rebooting. ... Yet even among Linux’s many fans there is growing unease about vulnerabilities in the operating system’s most basic, foundational elements — housed in something called “the kernel,” which Torvalds has personally managed since its creation in 1991.
Ten years ago, high tech observers complained that the nation didn’t have enough bold innovators. There were, of course, wildly profitable high tech firms, but they rarely took creative risks and mostly just mimicked Silicon Valley: Baidu was a replica of Google, Tencent a copy of Yahoo, JD a version of Amazon. Young Chinese coders had programming chops that were second to none, but they lacked the drive of a Mark Zuckerberg or Steve Jobs. The West Coast mantra—fail fast, fail often, the better to find a hit product—seemed alien, even dangerous, to youths schooled in an educational system that focused on rote memorization and punished mistakes. Graduates craved jobs at big, solid firms. The goal was stability: Urban China had only recently emerged from decades of poverty, and much of the countryside was still waiting its turn to do so. Better to keep your head down and stay safe. ... That attitude is vanishing now. It’s been swept aside by a surge in prosperity, bringing with it a new level of confidence and boldness in the country’s young urban techies. ... higher education soared sevenfold: 7 million graduated college this year. The result is a generation both creative and comfortable with risk-taking. ... Anyone with a promising idea and some experience can find money. Venture capitalists pumped a record $15.5 billion into Chinese startups last year, so entrepreneurs are being showered in funding, as well as crucial advice and mentoring from millionaire angels. ... Even the Chinese government—which has a wary attitude toward online expression and runs a vast digital censorship apparatus—has launched a $6.5 billion fund for startups.
All of her reactions, and her answers to the questions Motte asked as Megan used the site, went into a growing database. Expedia, the parent company of more than a dozen travel-oriented brands in addition to Expedia.com, is obsessed with figuring out how to make booking travel online more intuitive, more efficient, and more enjoyable. That means, among other things, understanding the psychodrama of trip planning: the shifting desires and paralyzing wealth of choices, the unsettling gyrations in room rates and ticket prices, the competing demands of family members and budgets and schedules, the need to balance the thirst for adventure against the fear of Zika virus in Latin America or Islamic State in Europe. ... The goal of Expedia’s usability researchers is not only to make Expedia’s various sites and mobile apps more efficient but also to make them an extension of the vacation fantasies that are always running in the back of our heads. ... What distinguishes Expedia is its dedication to understanding the psyche of the modern travel planner. That may be most apparent in the Usability Lab, but much of it happens on the sites themselves, as the company relentlessly tests new ideas about look and feel and function. ... each of Expedia’s brands has its own technology and marketing teams, and they’re encouraged to set their own course. They all benefit from the massive inventory of hotel rooms and plane tickets and the financial resources and technological firepower of the parent company. ... Two-thirds of the A/B tests Expedia runs show no effect or a negative effect, and most of the successful ones are only marginally so.
Since its release seven years ago, Minecraft has become a global sensation, captivating a generation of children. There are over 100 million registered players, and it’s now the third-best-selling video game in history, after Tetris and Wii Sports. In 2014, Microsoft bought Minecraft — and Mojang, the Swedish game studio behind it — for $2.5 billion. ... There have been blockbuster games before, of course. But as Jordan’s experience suggests — and as parents peering over their children’s shoulders sense — Minecraft is a different sort of phenomenon. ... For one thing, it doesn’t really feel like a game. It’s more like a destination, a technical tool, a cultural scene, or all three put together: a place where kids engineer complex machines, shoot videos of their escapades that they post on YouTube, make art and set up servers, online versions of the game where they can hang out with friends. It’s a world of trial and error and constant discovery, stuffed with byzantine secrets, obscure text commands and hidden recipes. And it runs completely counter to most modern computing trends. ... Minecraft culture is a throwback to the heady early days of the digital age. In the late ’70s and ’80s, the arrival of personal computers like the Commodore 64 gave rise to the first generation of kids fluent in computation. They learned to program in Basic, to write software that they swapped excitedly with their peers. It was a playful renaissance that eerily parallels the embrace of Minecraft by today’s youth. ... Today it costs $27 and sells 10,000 copies a day. (It’s still popular across all age groups; according to Microsoft, the average player is between 28 and 29, and women make up nearly 40 percent of all players.)
The so-called cognitive revolution started small, but as computers became standard equipment in psychology labs across the country, it gained broader acceptance. By the late 1970s, cognitive psychology had overthrown behaviorism, and with the new regime came a whole new language for talking about mental life. Psychologists began describing thoughts as programs, ordinary people talked about storing facts away in their memory banks, and business gurus fretted about the limits of mental bandwidth and processing power in the modern workplace. ... This story has repeated itself again and again. As the digital revolution wormed its way into every part of our lives, it also seeped into our language and our deep, basic theories about how things work. Technology always does this. During the Enlightenment, Newton and Descartes inspired people to think of the universe as an elaborate clock. In the industrial age, it was a machine with pistons. (Freud’s idea of psychodynamics borrowed from the thermodynamics of steam engines.) Now it’s a computer. Which is, when you think about it, a fundamentally empowering idea. Because if the world is a computer, then the world can be coded. ... Code is logical. Code is hackable. Code is destiny. These are the central tenets (and self-fulfilling prophecies) of life in the digital age. ... In this world, the ability to write code has become not just a desirable skill but a language that grants insider status to those who speak it. They have access to what in a more mechanical age would have been called the levers of power. ... whether you like this state of affairs or hate it—whether you’re a member of the coding elite or someone who barely feels competent to futz with the settings on your phone—don’t get used to it. Our machines are starting to speak a different language now, one that even the best coders can’t fully understand.
The Office of Personnel Management repels 10 million attempted digital intrusions per month—mostly the kinds of port scans and phishing attacks that plague every large-scale Internet presence—so it wasn’t too abnormal to discover that something had gotten lucky and slipped through the agency’s defenses. In March 2014, for example, OPM had detected a breach in which blueprints for its network’s architecture were siphoned away. But in this case, the engineers noticed two unusually frightening details. First, opmsecurity.org had been registered on April 25, 2014, which meant the malware had probably been on OPM’s network for almost a year. Even worse, the domain’s owner was listed as “Steve Rogers”—the scrawny patriot who, according to Marvel Comics lore, used a vial of Super-Soldier Serum to transform himself into Captain America, a member of the Avengers. ... Registering sites in Avengers-themed names is a trademark of a shadowy hacker group believed to have orchestrated some of the most devastating attacks in recent memory. Among them was the infiltration of health insurer Anthem, which resulted in the theft of personal data belonging to nearly 80 million Americans. And though diplomatic sensitivities make US officials reluctant to point fingers, a wealth of evidence ranging from IP addresses to telltale email accounts indicates that these hackers are tied to China, whose military allegedly has a 100,000-strong cyberespionage division. ... To figure out why the hackers had trained their sights on OPM, investigators would have to determine what, if anything, had been stolen from the agency’s network over the preceding year. But first they had to hunt down and eliminate the malware on its network, an archaic monstrosity that consisted of as many as 15,000 individual machines.
America’s War with Russia’s greatest cybercriminal began in the spring of 2009, when special agent James Craig, a rookie in the FBI’s Omaha, Nebraska, field office, began looking into a strange pair of electronic thefts. ... The leading victim in the case was a subsidiary of the payments-processing giant First Data, which lost $450,000 that May. That was quickly followed by a $100,000 theft from a client of the First National Bank of Omaha. What was odd, Craig noticed, was that the thefts seemed to have been executed from the victims’ own IP addresses, using their own logins and passwords. Examining their computers, he saw that they were infected with the same malware: something called the Zeus Trojan horse. ... The ruse is known as a “man in the browser” attack. While you sit at your computer logging into seemingly secure websites, the malware modifies pages before they load, siphoning away your credentials and your account balance. Only when you log in from a different computer do you even realize the money is gone.
The company’s e-commerce platform was involved in purchases by more than 100 million individual shoppers in 2016, yet it is invisible by design, enabling the end-to-end operation of its customers, some 400,000 individual retail shops and brands. It proudly operates not from San Francisco or SoHo but from six floors of an inconspicuous office tower in Ottawa ... the company has quietly but aggressively encroached on territory occupied by retail giants like Amazon and eBay to carve out a lucrative niche in e-commerce. ... Lütke’s goal is a lofty one: to make commerce easier for everybody. Just as WordPress made it easy for anyone to set up a blog or content website, Shopify lets anyone set up and run a digital store immediately, without needing any technical prowess.
Whether the result of a programmer’s error or hackers working for a nation-state, data leaks are the new norm. So executives are coming to terms with the idea that it might be more economical to nip coding issues in the bud before they lead to bigger—and messier—problems down the road. ... But it’s not that simple. Too many organizations either don’t prioritize security or view it as an impediment to meeting product development and delivery deadlines. ... To Ormandy and the dozen or so ace computer crackers that make up Google’s Project Zero, there are no boundaries to their jurisdiction—anything that touches the Internet is fair game. Policing cyberspace isn’t just good for humanity. It’s good for business too.
Seven years in, however, Stripe’s mission is less to send more books, vacuums, and grooming kits into the world than to “increase the GDP of the internet,” Patrick says. To do this, the company is beginning to move beyond payments by writing software that helps companies retool the way they incorporate, pay workers, and detect fraud. It’s part of an ambitious bid to revamp how online business has been conducted for 20 years and to give anyone with a bright idea a chance to compete. ... With Stripe, all a startup had to do was add seven lines of code to its site to handle payments: What once took weeks was now a cut-and-paste job. Silicon Valley coders spread word of this elegant new architecture. ... Although startups appreciated what Stripe was doing, most potential investors did not. How was a small group of young engineers going to alter the internet’s financial structure? Hadn’t they heard of PayPal?