Innovation

We Know Russia Used Big Tech to Meddle In the Election. Now What?

Representatives from three of Silicon Valley’s most powerful tech firms—Facebook, Google, and Twitter—trooped up to Capitol Hill last week and told senators they were really, really sorry the Russians hacked their platforms and may even have influenced the recent presidential election. But their contrition wasn’t followed by substantive plans to remedy the situation.

Meet the “Pro-Piracy” Professor Who Studies ‘Game of Thrones’ Downloads

It wasn’t long ago that we all watched television on a bulky, cathode-ray TV connected to a pricey cable or satellite service. Now televisions are flat and the pay-TV industry is fading fast as consumers switch to online streaming on a plethora of digital devices. But the companies that pump out the content are still dependent on outdated business models and stubbornly ignore the transformational effects that fan fiction and even piracy could bring, says Abigail De Kosnik, an associate professor of new media studies at UC Berkeley.

Antidote to Fake News: The Investigations Lab Teaches Digital Skepticism

For criminal investigators, seeing is not believing. The keys to their work are skepticism, multiple hypotheses, and guarding against bias. It takes specialized training to apply that mindset in the digital world where yearly, a trillion photographs and videos are uploaded. Teaching students how to rigorously verify open source material found on social media is the mission of the UC Berkeley Human Rights Center’s Investigation Lab at Berkeley Law.

Didn’t Win a Nobel? The Honors and Prestige Don’t End There.

On April 13, 1888, Swedish industrialist Alfred Nobel, the inventor of dynamite, who made millions turning his invention into munitions and selling them to the armies of the world, was aghast to read a story in a Paris newspaper that mistakenly reported his death.

It was actually his older brother, Ludvig, who had died, but Alfred was horrified by the headline: “The merchant of death is dead.”

The story went on to say, “Dr. Alfred Nobel, who became rich by finding ways to kill more people faster than ever, died yesterday.”

What’s the Deal with Gravitational Waves? An Explainer

After much speculation and bated breath, two-time UC Berkeley alumnus Barry C. Barish (BA ‘57, PhD ‘62)  has been awarded this year’s Nobel Prize for Physics.

Barish shares the prize with fellow Caltech physicist Kip Thorne and MIT physicist Rainer Weiss. The trio earned the recognition for their groundbreaking detection of gravitational waves—ripples in the fabric of space that spread through the universe.

Dust in the Machine

Hear the letters BMI and the first thing you probably think of is “body mass index.” Keep your eyes peeled because “brain-machine interfaces” could soon hijack more than just the acronym.

From the Fall 2017 Bugged issue of California.

Debugging the Novel

When Vikram Chandra started writing his best-selling novel, Sacred Games (2006), he knew it was going to be a big book. And he was right: All told, the novel is 947 pages, includes over 100 characters, and spans a 60-year timeline. To make the writing process smoother, Chandra set out to find a software program he could use to store, organize, and keep track of the details of his novel. But no off-the-shelf program met his needs.

From the Fall 2017 Bugged issue of California.

Knotty Circumstance: How That Shoelace Study Went Viral

The study that would become a media sensation started innocently enough. It was about ten years ago, when a 4-year-old naively asked her father, “Why do shoelaces come untied?” and said father, who happens to be Oliver M. O’Reilly, a professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering, couldn’t come up with a good explanation, even after watching myriad YouTube tutorials. “It seemed like a great mechanics problem and no one had solved it.”

From the Fall 2017 Bugged issue of California.

Bugged About Privacy

Our lives have been so augmented—or subsumed—by interconnected cybernetic devices that it’s sometimes difficult to appreciate what we’ve gained.

And lost.

We can now communicate cheaply and easily, and on a variety of media, with almost anyone anywhere in the world. We can find whatever fact we want, buy any item, monitor our homes, our finances, our children, our physical fitness, all with a few swipes on a screen. We can entertain ourselves for hours, albeit at the risk of eyestrain.

From the Fall 2017 Bugged issue of California.

Zen and the Art of Bug Repair

If you ever owned an old air-cooled Volkswagen, chances are you also owned a copy of the “Idiot’s Guide,” or at least knew about it. Its real title was How to Keep Your Volkswagen Alive: A Manual of Step-by-Step Procedures for the Compleat Idiot “with complete spelled wrong on the cover,” one joker put it, “so you know it must be good.” 

From the Fall 2017 Bugged issue of California.

Dietary Disruption: Startup Takes on Lucrative Supplement Market

The last time many people on the campus of UC Berkeley were paying attention to Will Smelko it was 2010. Then 22 years old, Smelko was the ASU president and he made news by vetoing a resolution urging the University to divest from companies supplying military-related equipment to Israel.

Should We Be Worried About Rogue AI? We Ask the Experts.

Technoscenti titans Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg have gotten into a bit of a tiff lately, with Musk repeating warnings that rapidly developing artificial intelligence (AI) poses an existential threat to humanity, and Zuckerberg countering that such concerns are much ado about not much.

Cal Programs Aim to Make Diversity the New Business as Usual

Ashley Williams opened her Apple laptop and turned the screen to face two men seated in front of her at a round, silver table. Clicking through slides, the 28-year-old former journalist walked them through her vision for Rizzarr, the startup she founded more than two years ago.

A New Age of Aging: How Tech Can Ease the Trials of Getting Old

Broken hip announcements were a dark opera as I entered adulthood. Both parents. Then the parents of many of my friends and the parents of their friends’ friends as we marched toward middle age. For each of the afflicted, it was the last stumble toward the grave. For their offspring, who had tumbled through the tear gas of the Vietnam era, it was strange to witness: falling down, then pneumonia, confusion, intestinal bleeding, bladder infections, dementia, stroke, and within a year or at most two, the tomb.

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