Author Archives: coreyted

War and life in the Gaza Strip, documented by a female Palestinian photojournalist

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Meet TED2014 Fellow Eman Mohammed who was born in Saudi Arabia and educated in Gaza City, Palestine, where she started her photojournalism career at the age of nineteen.

Her work focuses on documenting the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, including invocations and wars that frequently occur in the area, and the formation of armed militant groups in the strip.

She’ll be joining 21other outstanding innovators as part of the TED Fellows program at the TED2014 Conference. Explore the entire class of TED2014 Fellows, and learn more about Eman’s work, and see her striking images at www.emanmohammed.com.

Seamlessly integrating wearable interfaces with the body

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Meet TED2014 Fellow David Sengeh, a doctoral student at the MIT Media Lab working to improve the comfort and affordability of prosthetic limbs. His research in the Biomechatronics Group at MIT focuses on the design of comfortable prosthetic sockets and wearable interfaces. David’s hope is that one day prosthetics, and other wearable interfaces, will integrate seamlessly with the body. He is also the President and co-founder of Global Minimum Inc. (GMin), an international NGO that has distributed over 15,000 mosquito nets in Sierra Leone.

Learn more about David’s work helping amputees in this CNN interview.

Or watch this vignette by CNN:

Carrying on in the face of fraternal war

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Meet TED 2014 Fellow Ziyah Gafic, an award-winning photojournalist from Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina, whose work includes intimate portraits of people determined to carry on with their lives in the face of fraternal war.

Ziyah was born in Sarajevo, where he graduated in comparative literature. Since 1999 he has been traveling extensively and covering major events in more than forty countries. Today, you can follow him on the TED Fellows Instagram account, where he is sharing his travels through Mecca for GEO Magazine.

Here’s a selection of Ziyah images from Instagram:

 

 

Getting girls in science: Shohini Ghose heads the Center for Women in Science

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Meet TED 2014 Fellow Shohini Ghose, a theoretical physicist who examines how the laws of quantum mechanics may be harnessed to develop next-generation computers and novel protocols like teleportation.

Shohini is currently an associate physics professor at Wilfrid Laurier University where she is also the Director of the Centre for Women in Science. The center’s mission is to build a strong community for women in science as well as the mathematical social sciences through research, action and communication. It provides grants to female scientists and to scholars studying the role of women in the sciences. In addition, the center organizes seminars, workshops and conferences, developes partnerships with other educational institutions and with industry, facilitates networking and mentoring opportunities for female scientists, and supports community outreach to female youth considering careers in science.

Learn more about the mission of the Center for Women in Science at Wilfrid Laurier University:

 

Can afforestation save the planet from deforestation?

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Meet TED2014 Fellow Shubhendu Sharma, a reforestation expert and Indian industrial engineer restoring natural forests with his company, Afforestt, which offers a way to plant maintenance-free, wild and highly biodiverse forests using specialized afforestation methodology, research and cutting-edge technologies.

Afforestt is an end-to-end service provider for creating a natural, wild, maintenance free, native forests. They are able to grow forests ten times faster than trees planted conventionally, giving you the equivalent of a 100-year old natural forest in just ten years.

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Learn more about Shubhendu’s work at www.afforestt.com.

Bringing deep-sea beauty to the surface: TED Fellow Shih Chieh Huang

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Meet TED 2014 Fellow Shih Chieh Huang, a Taiwanese-American artist who dissects and disassembles the mundane detritus of our lives – household appliances, lights, computer parts, toys, plastic objects – transforming them into surreal, animated “living” organisms. Huang’s work explores bioluminescence — the emission of light by living organisms such as fireflies and deep-sea fishes — making for a spectacular, mesmerizing array of color.

Check out his mechanical organisms in action:

‘Ag-gag’ laws put us all at risk: Will Potter reports on environmental “terrorist”

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Meet TED 2014 Fellow Will Potter, an American journalist who covers the animal rights movement, environmental movements and post-9/11 civil liberties. Currently he is examining how whistleblowers and nonviolent protesters are being treated as “terrorists.”

Will received a master’s degree in writing from the Johns Hopkins University and graduated summa cum laude from the University of Texas at Austin with a degree in journalism.

His book, Green Is The New Red: An Insider’s Account of a Social Movement Under Siege was recently published by City Lights Books. It has been featured by Utne Reader,The Rumpus, and Publisher’s WeeklyKirkus Book Reviews awarded it a Kirkus Star for “remarkable merit” and named it one of the best books of 2011.

Check out Will’s book trailer:

To learn more about WIll, visit www.willpotter.com

To purchase a copy of Will’s book, Green Is The New Red: An Insider’s Account of a Social Movement Under Siege, click here.

 

Panopticon Down: Peter Haas on why he’s writing a novella about American surveillance

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Upset over the state of online surveillance in America —  from Wikileaks documents to the Snowden revelations — Peter Haas has set out to write a near-future novella exploring a new world order, one where friend and foe are blurred, and cyber war is the new battleground. You can help support him by giving to his Kickstarter campaign.

 

What sparked your desire to write this novella?

Our lives leave a large digital footprint these days, including every place you’ve ever been, through cell phone metadata and tower tracking, and almost every correspondence you have ever had, through email and social media. This data is being collected and stored for extended periods of time on a scale unprecedented a decade ago. The type of surveillance that used to require individual wiretaps and warrants can now technically be done on the scale of hundreds of millions of people. My concern is that, in extremes, this data can be used to identify, segment and persecute members of society who are engaged in disagreement with the state.

I don’t believe the state is perfect. I believe there are large social injustices still facing us that need remediation, from environmental stewardship to the vanishing middle class, from treatment of prisoners to gender equality and civil rights issues. Society strives towards making itself better, but if we don’t consider the 4th Amendment and permit blanket surveillance, we are stacking the odds against activists who disagree with the position of the state.

We have been through this before. Surveillance was of large concern in the 1970s, and many of the laws and institutions we have now, such as the FISA courts were established then. It was the view of Supreme Court Justice Lewis Powell in the 1970s when ruling on state electronic surveillance that:

History abundantly documents the tendency of Government – however benevolent and benign its motives – to view with suspicion those who most fervently dispute its policies. Fourth Amendment protections become the more necessary when the targets of official surveillance may be those suspected of unorthodoxy in their political beliefs. The danger to political dissent is acute where the Government attempts to act under so vague a concept as the power to protect “domestic security.” Given the difficulty of defining the domestic security interest, the danger of abuse in acting to protect that interest becomes apparent.

We need to be careful of what we authorize in the name of domestic security, and after 9-11 we were very open in our authorizations. Where surveillance could take the state could undermine some core principles of our democracy.

What do you hope to accomplish by writing it?

Panopticon Down is meant as an alarm bell. It uses some examples drawn from real life and some theoretical considerations to illustrate the steps the state can legally take to quell dissent. These steps, both real and imagined, while legal are definitely questionable when viewed within a constitutional or moral framework.

My hope is that Panopticon Down will raise awareness that many of the issues we wish to fight for in the future will be tied to this issue of surveillance and chilling dissent, that in unproven statements about safety and reduction of terrorism*, we are sacrificing significant freedoms and capabilities within our democracy.

In addition I hope to give people some tools to “go dark” to the NSA. To make it so fewer of their communications can be monitored. I hope to show that it is still possible to technologically “opt out” of some of the surveillance apparatus.

*The NSA has compared the program to the NYC Stop and Frisk program. This is an interesting comparison as the Attorney General of New York just released a study showing that Stop and Frisk was ineffective at preventing major crime (http://www.msnbc.com/melissa-harris-perry/report-finds-stop-and-frisk-does-not). Meanwhile it has been blasted by many groups for violating individual rights and NY state law against policing quotas. Unfortunately, a similar study into the effectiveness of the NSA program cannot be independently done due to State Secrets provisions, even though by their own internal audits there are problems and abuses in the programs of surveillance (http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2013/aug/15/nsa-spying-broke-privacy-rules-many-times-report/).

What is your prior writing experience in fiction?

I have done fiction before for personal projects. Just not in any published work. I wrote a 25,000 word personal piece that I might release some day.

For those interested in my writing style, my first chapter and some special content will be available on the Bit Torrent Artist’s Bundle page: http://content.bittorrent.com/ . I will be announcing when this goes live on Twitter @peter_haas.

Why chose fiction?

Fiction presents a more accessible path to the theoretical implications of the security state. It can spell out stronger warnings. In fiction there is liberty for me to get much darker in my considerations than I believe would be trusted in non-fiction. In fiction I can do this and be labeled dystopian, in non-fiction I would simply be called alarmist.

Can you give a prediction for the state of US surveillance in the next 50 years?

Right now we are at an inflection point; it could get better or it could get worse. I’ll consider the future where it gets worse. In the near term of that 50-year spectrum, we have some new technologies coming on the horizon that could significantly change surveillance.

Drones are being approved for use over US skies in the near future. The Gorgon Stare imaging system combined with cell phone tracking means it is unlikely people will stop being tracked when they turn off their phones. Facial recognition combined with Google Glass type platforms will become a powerful tool for identifying and singling out individuals at mass gatherings. The biggest threat though is unified data. Other agencies are clambering for the data being collected by the NSA. If this is opened to larger DHS, FBI and local police operations, it could change policing as we know it with deleterious effects.

In the far term of that 50 years, perhaps closer to 75 years, is where technology could push us into the realm of the truly sci-fi. There is the question of what does surveillance mean in the post Singularity era. People are already working on computer brain interfaces, and we are making advances with nanotechnology. The concept that your visual or auditory cortex may someday be hooked up directly to the net leads to a new level of security and privacy considerations. What does it mean if the government can not just hear what you hear or see what you see (that could be possible in a world of Google Glass in just a few years), but they can make you hear or see things. I am actually hoping to address some of these issues in some sci-fi sequels to Panopticon Down. One short story based on this idea will be released for free as part of the Bit Torrent bundle program.

Do you think people should be more outraged about the current level of government surveillance? If so, why don’t you think they are?

There is growing outrage; the anger is palpable in some circles, and yes on a constitutional basis alone I believe people should be more outraged.

Unfortunately, this is not a pressing issue for the majority of the population. I think largely people are afraid or indifferent. The indifference comes from the misconception that because one chooses to post portions of one’s life on social media, privacy is dead. I think this underestimates the value of choice in this process. I get to chose what views and communications I make public on Twitter. Unless I take technical measures I do not get to chose what foreign bound or encrypted data the government looks at.

As for the fear, I was talking with a friend in Boston about this and her concern was safety of her family after the terrible bombings there. She was vehement that she would gladly give up any privacy to gain more security and safety from future attacks. There is fear on the part of the government as well. Fear that they will be the ones who let another attack come through. We have a dichotomy set up that we must chose either privacy or security.

But this dichotomy is panning out to be false. There has been little public evidence shown of terrorist attacks being prevented by this extended surveillance. In the mean time, things like stopping the Times Square Bomber or finding the Boston Marathon bombing suspects have relied on the public coming forward and notifying authorities.

To quote Bill Clinton on this issue “we are on the verge of having the worst of all worlds: We’ll have no security and no privacy” (http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2013/11/18/bill-clinton-says-the-next-american-president-should-be-a-woman/) We jumped into this after 9-11 when anything was permissible to stop another attack, but now, I believe, the time has come for government to re-examine. When the author of the Patriot Act comes forward with questions about the use of the Patriot Act as justification for these programs I’d say that re-examination is starting.

Are there precautions people can take without withdrawing from the hyper-social reality we live in today?

The primary tool to turn to in increasing privacy is using encryption. Scrambling your data so it can’t be read. The idea is that if everybody uses encryption for their communications it will be too expensive to monitor everybody. Surveillance will be more like it was back in the past, when you had to chose who you wanted to tap. Now encryption is something that everybody uses already in their day to day lives when they are doing banking online or buying groceries online. But it is amazing how many day to day activities are not encrypted.

Email is a good example. People think of email as a letter, sealed in an envelope. A better analogy would be a post card. Anybody can read your email at the different stops it makes along the internet between you and your destination. This is true even if you are using something like SSL encryption to talk with your email provider.

Other actions like avoiding device fingerprinting, using open source software and building your own trusted networks are useful as well in going dark. As a starting point I’d recommend the following:

  1. Use https everywhere (https://www.eff.org/https-everywhere) it is a good first step to encrypt your average web traffic.
  2. Everybody should consider full disk encryption on both computers and cell phones. Truecrypt (http://www.truecrypt.org/) works for windows, Filvault works for Mac (http://support.apple.com/kb/ht4790), LVM+LUKS works for Ubuntu and the built in encryption on smartphones will work with Apple, Android, Cyanogenmod (http://www.wired.com/gadgetlab/2013/10/keep-your-smartphone-locked/ ). WITH ALL FULL DISK ENCRYPTION YOU MUST POWER DOWN FOR IT TO PROTECT YOU. If somebody gets your laptop or phone in sleep mode they have an opportunity to break the encryption.
  3. Start using encryption with your email. (http://lifehacker.com/how-to-encrypt-your-email-and-keep-your-conversations-p-1133495744)
  4. Turn off Javascript where you can ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/NoScript )
  5. If you want to go further research device fingerprinting (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Device_fingerprint) and turn off cookies, change your MAC address, turn on ad blockers, and use a VPN or TOR. Start to make your device less fingerprintable.
  6. Use Free and Open Source Software (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Free_and_open-source_software)

These are good things for everybody to do to make themselves more secure not just from government intrusion, but also from theft and hackers. If everybody took these steps we’d be living in a different world when it comes to surveillance.

For those interested in more information, there is a good guide to increasing security and privacy on the Internet here at Cryptoparty: https://www.cryptoparty.in/brief

For the truly technical a more detailed 335 page guide is here: http://mirror-de.cryptoparty.is/files/cryptoparty-handbook-2013-08-21/cryptoparty-handbook-2013-08-21.pdf

How can people stay on top of your work?

For now twitter. @peter_haas . I’m setting up a public and a deepweb (TOR) site.

For more information, go to Peter’s Kickstarter campaign.
To learn more about Peter’s work, visit his TED Fellow Network Profile.

Aggregating social programs: Erine Gray creates the Wikipedia of human services

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Meet 2014 TED Fellow Erine Gray, who has been working on business and technology consulting projects for more than 12 years. His current company (Aunt Bertha) is making it easy for people to find food, health, housing and education programs. Aunt Bertha’s mission is to make human service program information more accessible to both people and programs. You can think of AuntBertha.com as the Wikipedia of social services.

Erine grew up in a small town in Western New York, and went to college at Indiana University where he studied Economics (and took several computer science classes). He became interested in public policy shortly after he became his disabled mother’s guardian in 2002. When that happened, he quit his job as a programmer and went back to grad school to get a Master’s in Public Affairs from the University of Texas. He then spent the next six years helping governments better deliver on public services.

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Check out www.AuntBertha.com and follow them on twitter, @Auntbertha