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Look Out—He’s Got a Phone!

Medical devices, cars, and home utilities can all be controlled using a smartphone—which means security flaws in our devices could have deadly consequences:

"I asked Jack if he thought anyone would actually use smartphones to try to fiddle with other people’s pacemakers, or change the dosage of their medications, or compromise their eyesight, or take control of their prosthetic limbs, or raise the volume of their hearing aids to a paralyzing shriek. Will this become a tempting new way to settle a score or hurry up an inheritance? He said, 'Has there ever been a box connected to the Internet that people haven’t tried to break into?' He had a point: a few years ago, anonymous vandals inserted flashing animated images into an Epilepsy Foundation online forum, triggering migraines and seizure-like reactions in some unfortunate people who came across them. (The vandals were never found.) Jack was reluctant to go into detail about what he thinks the future may hold. 'I’m not comfortable trying to predict exact scenarios,' he said. But then he added, calm as a State Department spokesman, 'I can say that I wouldn’t want to discover a virus in my insulin pump.'"
PUBLISHED: Dec. 19, 2012
LENGTH: 15 minutes (3764 words)

State of the Species

A brief history of Homo sapiens—and a prognosis for our survival:

"Microorganisms have changed the face of the earth, crumbling stone and even giving rise to the oxygen we breathe. Compared to this power and diversity, Margulis liked to tell me, pandas and polar bears were biological epiphenomena—interesting and fun, perhaps, but not actually significant.

"Does that apply to human beings, too? I once asked her, feeling like someone whining to Copernicus about why he couldn’t move the earth a little closer to the center of the universe. Aren’t we specialat all?

"This was just chitchat on the street, so I didn’t write anything down. But as I recall it, she answered that Homo sapiens actually might be interesting—for a mammal, anyway. For one thing, she said, we’re unusually successful.

"Seeing my face brighten, she added: Of course, the fate of every successful species is to wipe itself out."
PUBLISHED: Oct. 25, 2012
LENGTH: 32 minutes (8232 words)