The Atlantic


Finally, the Self-Driving Car

The Atlantic

Arizona Avenue from Waymo's self-driving-car showroom sits the Crowne Plaza San Marcos hotel, which is allegedly haunted. According to employees and guests, the ghost can move plates, knock phones off cradles, even--helpfully!--fold clothes. I passed this knowledge on to a Lyft driver, who retorted, "I didn't know that, but to be honest with you, what isn't haunted?" Every western boomtown has its ghosts, each wave of fresh pavement and new money disturbing the traces of what lived and died there before. Chandler, just southeast of Phoenix, has added 220,000 of its 250,000 residents since 1980.


The City of the Future Is a Data-Collection Machine

The Atlantic

In Silicon Valley, to make a device "smart" means to add internet connectivity, allowing it to collect, send, and receive data, often while learning and adapting to user preferences. The technology industry has invested wholesale in the idea that "smart" means better, and so we have smart speakers, smart thermometers, smart baby monitors, smart window shades, and smart sex toys, all perpetually collecting rich user data to send back to company servers. Soon enough, we'll have a smart city: Sidewalk Labs, a subsidiary of Google's parent company, Alphabet, is building one "from the internet up," with help from a series of private-public real-estate partnerships in the downtown Toronto neighborhood Quayside (pronounced Key-side). The project's 200-page wish list of features is astounding. The "vision document" imagines not only the revitalization of a 12-acre plot that has sat largely vacant since its heyday as an industrial port, but its transformation into a micro-city outfitted with smart technologies that will use data to disrupt everything from traffic congestion to health care, housing, zoning regulations, and greenhouse-gas emissions.


Kentucky Is Turning to Drones to Fix Its Unsolved-Murder Crisis

The Atlantic

Keith Allen Bledsoe, the sixth teenage homicide victim in Lexington, Kentucky, this year, died as the other five had: by gunshot. On June 26, Lexington police found the 17-year-old Bledsoe's body in the streets of Harris Court, a cul-de-sac near I-64. If confrontation or argument had preceded Bledsoe's murder, none of the neighbors reported hearing it to police. If they heard gunshots, seemingly no one peered outside to investigate them. Officers reported no suspects or relevant witnesses, only shell casings and the gunshot wound to Bledsoe's head.


When Pop-Up Books Taught Popular Science

The Atlantic

Today, books with pop-up illustrations--flaps to be lifted, tabs to be pulled, and wheels to be turned--form a small niche of the book market. Mostly, pop-up books are meant to get young children interested in books and reading. Once that interest is kindled, they are discarded for more sophisticated reading material. The charm and whimsy of pop-ups might seem far removed from the dry seriousness of technical literature. But during the first three centuries of printing, from about 1450 to 1750, most pop-ups appeared in scientific books.


Alexa, Should We Trust You?

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To hear more feature stories, see our full list or get the Audm iPhone app. When I say "smart," I mean the speakers possess artificial intelligence, can conduct basic conversations, and are hooked up to the internet, which allows them to look stuff up and do things for you. And when I say "all," I know some readers will think, Speak for yourself! Friends my age--we're the last of the Baby Boomers--tell me they have no desire to talk to a computer or have a computer talk to them. Cynics of every age suspect their virtual assistants of eavesdropping, and not without reason.


The Newest Password Technology Is Making Your Phone Easier for Police to Search

The Atlantic

In August, 28-year-old Grant Michalski was implicated as part of a ring of men sharing images and videos of a young girl, the daughter of one of the ring's members, being sexually abused. The FBI arrived at Michalski's home with the authority to require him to unlock his iPhone X using the phone's Face ID feature. It was the first search warrant of its kind. From schools to summer camps to baseball stadiums to, of course, phones, biometric technology is everywhere. It's how we sort photos, buy beer at baseball games, and board flights.


Police-Grade Surveillance Technology Comes to the Playground

The Atlantic

As other elementary schools across the country were preparing for the new school year by cleaning classrooms and training teachers, Hermosa Elementary, in Artesia, New Mexico was also installing a network of wireless microphones that could pick up the specific concussive audio signature of gunfire. Placed high in classrooms and hallways, the golf-ball-sized devices can alert authorities to the sound and location of gunshots, reportedly within 20 seconds of firing. They can also identify make and model of guns, and automatically lock doors and sound alarms throughout the campus. They are a technological balm for a terrifying problem: In the wake of the Parkland shooting, and Sandy Hook before that, school districts across the nation are spending hundreds of thousands to outfit campuses with high-tech surveillance, crisis response, and police technologies. Playgrounds are cordoned off by biometric locks requiring face and iris scans, parking lots are scanned and license plates are recorded, gunshot-detection devices are embedded in cafeterias, human police wear body cameras, and autonomous robots patrol hallways to detect weapons.


When an AI Goes Full Jack Kerouac

The Atlantic

On March 25, 2017, a black Cadillac with a white-domed surveillance camera attached to its trunk departed Brooklyn for New Orleans. An old GPS unit was fastened atop the roof. Inside, a microphone dangled from the ceiling. Wires from all three devices fed into Ross Goodwin's Razer Blade laptop, itself hooked up to a humble receipt printer. This, Goodwin hoped, was the apparatus that was going to produce the next American road-trip novel.


Another Day, Another Facebook Problem

The Atlantic

More bad news: Facebook has announced that a security exploit allowed attackers to gain control of at least 50 million user accounts. According to the company, the exploit impacted a feature that lets users see what their profile looks like to another user. In this case, the breach doesn't appear to involve extracting data from servers. Instead, the defect--introduced by a change to the way videos get uploaded--allowed users to gain control of a user's account directly, without a password. Facebook says they have fixed the vulnerability and taken steps to protect other users who could have been impacted.


Amazon Is Invading Your Home With Micro-Convenience

The Atlantic

Almost every day I make a pot of tea. Strong, black tea, the kind you have to steep properly in a ritual that involves a kettle, a tea tin, tea lights, a tea cozy. It's a four-minute brew, so I set a timer. I used to do it on the microwave, but some time ago I just started asking Alexa, via the Amazon Echo on my kitchen counter. "Alexa, set a timer for four minutes."