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Volume 5, Issue 506: Wednesday, June 11, 2003

  • "DOJ Net Surveillance Under Fire"
    Wired News (06/10/03); Glasner, Joanna

    Civil liberties groups are criticizing a May 2003 report from the Justice Department and last week's testimony by U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft at a congressional hearing as being too vague in regards to the Internet surveillance powers authorized by the USA Patriot Act. ACLU legislative counsel Timothy Edgar authored a memo arguing that the use of "trap-and-trace" devices, when applied to Internet wiretapping, could infringe on a subject's privacy. Such devices are often used to capture telephone numbers called by suspects while leaving phone conversations confidential, but separating content from routing data is difficult online because a URL provides content details. Furthermore, Edgar's memo notes that Internet content is not clearly defined by the Patriot Act, while the Justice Department report never establishes whether subject lines in emails are a form of content. The ACLU report also flags the potential for investigators to abuse Web-surfing records in data-mining efforts in order to find evidence of unlawful activity that bears no relation to the original investigation, as well as the lack of information the Justice Department has furnished regarding what kinds of Internet content is not subject to probes. Meanwhile, EFF attorney Lee Tien observes that Justice prefers to reveal little about surveillance activities related to the Patriot Act, and adds that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act buttresses this policy by giving investigators the authority to monitor people through a clandestine court. "What we're concerned about is you have a situation where the government, because there is less accountability, can engage in more surveillance without people knowing about it," Tien explains.

  • "Who's in the Loop? USC Tool Maps the Email Labyrinth"
    Information Sciences Institute (06/10/03)

    A new tool developed at the University of Southern California could relieve historians, archivists, and other researchers of the burden of painstakingly sifting through huge email databases for specific data by making such collections easy to systematize and visualize. The tool, known as "eArchivarius," will be demonstrated by Anton Leuski of USC's Information Sciences Institute at the Association for Computing Machinery Special Interest Group conference on Information Retrieval on July 30. Using software originally developed for Internet search engines, eArchivarius outlines the relationships between emails using spheres grouped in two- or three-dimensional space, whose proximity to each other reflects how many messages have been exchanged between correspondents over a given period. The spheres can be configured according to message content, thus revealing communities with similar interests as well as how these groups relate to one another. Choosing an individual recipient activates a window that displays a list of everyone that person exchanged email with, along with a graph outlining the times such correspondence occurred. Additionally, the interface can instantaneously return and display individual emails as hypertexted messages linked to senders, recipients, and similar messages. The spheres can also be color-coded to illustrate other relationships. "For a historian trying to understand the process by which a decision was made over a course of months, this kind of access will be extremely valuable," observes Leuski.

  • "Online Service Pairs Students, Mentors"
    SiliconValley.com (06/10/03); Bartindale, Becky

    MentorNet, based at San Jose State University, is a nonprofit program to help more women penetrate the science and engineering workforce by pairing students with mentors over the Web. The program is the brainchild of veteran educator Carol B. Muller, who worked on a pilot initiative at Dartmouth University that sought to explain why science and engineering fields had an attrition rate twice as high for female students as for male students. MentorNet has brought together 2,816 student-mentor teams over the Internet this year, while almost 20,000 people in total have been paired up since the program was launched in 1997. Muller says mentoring by email is unrestrained by time and physical distances, and overcomes cultural hurdles that could otherwise limit student-mentor interaction, such as class and income. Washington University computer engineering student Jenn Blankenship praises her relationship with Hewlett-Packard Labs researcher and mentor Sun-Ju Lee, which was made possible through MentorNet. Blankenship reports that Lee has helped her over the past year with preparing resumes and going over technical papers, and has also offered emotional support. Budget cutbacks stemming from the economic recession have put a dent in MentorNet's funding, so two years ago the organization imposed a fee for colleges, a move that caused the number of participating schools to fall from 116 to 80. Over half of MentorNet participants say the program has validated their passion for pursuing a career in science and engineering, according to regular evaluations.
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  • "Should Web Be a Copyright-Free Zone?"
    IDG News Service (06/10/03); Gross, Grant

    Speakers at the recent Progress and Freedom Foundation conference, "Promoting Markets in Creativity: Copyright in the Internet Age," aired their views on whether the Internet should or should not be subject to copyright law, and questioned whether new copyright statutes are really necessary to protect digital content. University of Virginia law professor Edmund Kitch declared that the safeguards copyrighted works enjoy offline should be extended to the Internet, and opposed file-traders' claim that content distributed online belongs to the public. However, InteCap senior advisor Michael Einhorn said the Internet has facilitated new forms of copyright usage, and should therefore have its own unique copyright considerations. He also argued that the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) is too broad, and should not ban all technologies that bypass anti-copying measures. Although Einhorn agreed that the court decision to shut down Napster three years ago was justified, he said the enactment of the DMCA is an indication that "there's no checks and balances on the system." House Subcommittee on Courts, the Internet, and Intellectual Property Chairman Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) argued that the key to controlling online intellectual property is not the enactment of new legislation, but the enforcement of existing laws. Smith said that new laws "are hard to write, easy to ignore, and hard to repeal if unintended consequences harm the marketplace," and urged that digital pirates would be more effectively deterred by imposing strict penalties on people who unlawfully download copyrighted material.

  • "'Biomimetics' Researchers Inspired by the Animal World"
    Boston Globe (06/09/03) P. D1; Kirsner, Scott

    Biomimetics researchers design robots based on animals in an effort to enhance the machines' versatility, capability, and robustness. Federally-funded biomimetics research efforts currently taking place in the Boston area include BigDog, a project conceived by former MIT researcher and Boston Dynamics President Marc Raibert; BigDog, when complete, will be able to reach speeds of approximately 15 mph, clear meter-high obstacles, and jump over ditches. A more sophisticated version of BigDog could be used to carry heavy equipment for soldiers. Another biomimetics project with possible military applications is RoboLobster, which is being developed collaboratively by sonar builder Massa Products and Northwestern University researcher Joseph Ayers. The eight-legged, seven-pound prototype boasts claws, a tail, and antennae like a terrestrial lobster, and is designed to look for explosive mines on beaches or in shallow water; the robot could be programmed to ultrasonically mark the location of mines, or carry out search-and-destroy missions. Ayers says that studying the behavior of RoboLobster's real-life counterparts can help overcome technical problems. Meanwhile, Boston-based iRobot and Icosystem are developing robots that can mimic the swarming behavior of birds, ants, and other organisms in order to carry out missions collaboratively, reconnaissance by drone aircraft being one example. Massa Products President Don Massa notes that the advantage of basing technology on nature is that "all the bad ideas die off, and the good ones live on."
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  • "A Passion to Build a Better Robot, One With Social Skills and a Smile"
    New York Times (06/10/03) P. D3; Dreifus, Claudia

    MIT researcher Dr. Cynthia L. Breazeal has dedicated herself to developing "sociable" robots that appear to respond both physically and emotionally to people. Breazeal notes that many people's attitudes toward real-life robots are rooted in science fiction, which often demonizes such technology, at least in the West; Breazeal theorizes that this negative portrayal stems from a cultural distrust of science. The scientist says that her preliminary work in robotics involved predecessors of microrovers that are now being used by NASA, and from there she moved on to humanoid robots. "I wanted to see if I could build a robot that could learn from people and actually could learn how to be more socially sophisticated," Breazeal recalls. The fruit of her labors was Kismet, an expressive robot with eyes, ears, and a mouth to indicate emotional states in face-to-face social interactions with human beings. Breazeal says Kismet was designed to develop social skills in much the same way human infants do, by noting and responding to emotional cues such as tone of voice, body language, and facial expressions. Kismet's experiments lay the groundwork for Leonardo, an advanced machine boasting realistic facial features, skin, and limbs for even more sophisticated social interaction. Another project of Breazeal's, on exhibit at a New York museum, are artificial flowers that sway and light up in close proximity to people, which Breazeal says "communicates my future vision of robot design that is intellectually intriguing and remains true to its technological heritage, but is able to touch us emotionally in the quality of interaction and their responsiveness to us--more like a dance, rather than pushing buttons."
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  • "Attack of the Two-Headed Scientists"
    Wired News (06/11/03); Mandel, Charles

    The New Laboratory for Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence (NLCSAI) announced in May integrates MIT's Artificial Intelligence Laboratory and Laboratory for Computer Science under the leadership of current AI Lab head Rodney Brooks and Computer Science Lab director Victor Zue. "The new laboratory will aspire to germinate and cultivate the most far-reaching new ideas and carry out the world's best research in information and intelligence technology and science," states dean of MIT's school of engineering Thomas Magnanti. Past accomplishments of the AI Lab include bacterial machines and behavior-based robots used for space exploration, consumer uses, and military operations, while the Computer Science Lab has made significant contributions to the development of many technologies including the Internet and the World Wide Web. Brooks says one of NLCSAI's planned projects is the advancement of pervasive computing to the point where people can switch between various gadgets without the need to make individual connections. He expects connectivity to expand and facilitate smoother shifting between the Web and other networks. Brooks notes that another project involves genomically harnessing the operations of biological cells to synthesize drugs or materials that are usually man-made, such as trees that grow into tables. Other breakthroughs Brooks wants NLCSAI to help realize include the elimination of paper-based record-keeping and common wireless devices that can serve as specialized tools via software. The decision to merge the two research facilities was based on the realization that the boundary between AI and computer science has eroded over the past several years.

  • "Global Summit on New Internet Protocol"
    Newswise (06/11/03)

    Computer scientists and technology companies will be able to get an in-depth look at the next-generation Internet Protocol, version 6 (IPv6), and its ramifications for applications and services at the North American IPv6 Global Summit in late June. IPv6 is designed to reverse the steady decrease of Internet address space by basing Web addresses on 128-bit numbers rather than 32-bit numbers typical of the current protocol, IPv4. The consortium that devised IPv6 says the new protocol will retain all of the old standard's advantages and add many new ones, including compulsory security as well as the support of uninterrupted mobility and automated network management. IPv6 is designed to address a surge in the volume of Internet end-points that will come about as the number of users who want multiple Web-connected appliances swells dramatically. "Anyone who will use the Internet in the future should find out first-hand what IPv6 will mean for companies, software designers, government, equipment manufacturers and others," recommends conference chairman and Charmed Technology President Alex Lightman. Asia and Europe are currently the lead deployers of IPv6, and the conference is expected to be a turning point in global IPv6 adoption. The California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology, the University of Southern California, San Diego's Jacobs School of Engineering, San Diego State University, and many other organizations are sponsoring the summit.

  • "Beyond WiFi: Airwaves Used in Creative, Lucrative--and Unregulated--Ways"
    Seattle Times (06/09/03); Stirland, Sarah Lai

    A recent FCC report outlines the current situation surrounding the nation's unlicensed spectrum and the technology innovation it has inspired. The FCC has made some adjustments to spectrum allotment rules, allowing license owners to lease and trade spectrum licenses, but the report also suggests that more unlicensed spectrum is needed. In addition to the fast-growing Wi-Fi technology, the FCC report focuses on other innovative uses of unlicensed airwaves, such as pill cameras that transmit images of patients' intestines to outside monitors. Unlicensed wireless technology is pervasive in American life, with cordless phones in over 80 percent of U.S. houses and garage-door openers in 41 percent of homes. Numerous base technologies take advantage of the unlicensed spectrum, including spread spectrum like that in cordless phones, millimeter wave technology used for computer communications, and emerging ultrawideband transmission. The report says disruptive technology applications besides Wi-Fi would result from more unlicensed spectrum allocation. Precursor Group expert Rudy Baca says one motivation for the FCC to relax the spectrum license framework is to boost competition between wireline and wireless broadband; that was the gist of a recent FCC filing from Microsoft, which said more unlicensed spectrum would enable wireless mesh networks to reach rural communities and more powerful broadcast technology in urban areas. The report is meant to present an unbiased view of the potential for unlicensed spectrum allotment, but does not tackle the possibility of flexible new digital technology that can intelligently switch frequencies, or even freely share proprietary wavelengths.
    Click Here to View Full Article

  • "Bell Tolling for PNG Graphics Format?"
    CNet (06/09/03); Festa, Paul

    The patent providing the foundation of the highly popular Graphics Interchange Format (GIF) design, the Lempel-Ziv-Welch (LZW) compression algorithm, is scheduled to expire June 20; Unisys is not planning to extend the patent, either in the United States or elsewhere, which means that the Portable Network Graphics (PNG) format developed as a royalty-free alternative to GIF is in danger of becoming superfluous. The World Wide Web Consortium last week announced a proposed second-edition version of PNG, which would support Unicode and allow characters to be graphically rendered in non-Roman alphabets, thus complying with international accords proclaimed by the International Organization for Standardization. Some people see the issue in a much wider context in regard to patents: Silicon Valley Linux Users Group President Don Marti insists that "The big issue is not whether you use GIF or PNG. The big issue is whether you let a patent holder become a censor for your communications." Marti compares the patenting of communications formats and standards to the notorious Stamp Act of 1765. Yet Unisys claims that the LZW patent and its enforcement was responsible for the development of PNG and its associated technological enhancements. Unisys representative Kristine Grow says that, should the use of GIF images be significantly impacted by the second edition of PNG, then "the patent situation will have achieved its purpose, which is to advance technological innovation."

  • "Ex-Cybersecurity Czar Says There's Much Work to Do"
    Investor's Business Daily (06/10/03) P. A6; Howell, Donna

    Former White House cybersecurity czar Richard Clarke applauds the national cybersecurity strategy he helped flesh out, but notes that a lot more needs to be accomplished. Awareness of the country's vulnerability to cyberspace-based attacks has spread significantly, and Clarke says that most government agencies realize that they need additional funds to boost cybersecurity measures. However, 14 federal departments' cybersecurity efforts received a grade of "F" in 2002. Agencies that Clarke lists as doing well include NASA, the FAA, the IRS, and the Veterans Affairs Department. Clarke also observes that people "don't realize the entire banking system, the entire national stock market and futures markets and bond markets, all of that is on cyberspace" and therefore susceptible to attacks on networks. Clarke thinks the term "cyberterrorism" is overused, and argues that people should be more concerned about how well their systems can be defended against cyberattacks rather than who launches such attacks. The ex-presidential cybersecurity advisor points out that the federal cybersecurity budget has expanded from $2.7 billion to $4.9 billion since President Bush took office. Clarke traces the genesis of the current national cybersecurity effort to a federally-commissioned investigation of the Oklahoma City bombing, which listed the country's reliance on computer networks as one of its vulnerable points.

  • "Glass That Glows and Gives Stock Information"
    New York Times (06/10/03) P. C1; Feder, Barnaby J.

    Researchers and companies are developing unobtrusive display devices that relay general information to users, such as a glass sphere from Ambient Devices that can be programmed to change color to indicate changing stock market conditions, for instance. The device, which is plugged into a wall socket, receives data wirelessly via radio signals transmitted over pager networks; the orb's hue can be controlled with small bits of data, because the information the device receives is translated and compressed into a proprietary code by Ambient's main server. "Our philosophy is to make [the device] friendly to live with by sidestepping all issues of how to work it or which button to press," explains Ambient President David Rose. Advances in computing and wireless communications have made it possible for even the smallest displays to tap into data from anywhere, as well as switch between different functionalities. Another unobtrusive interface from the University of California, Berkeley, consists of an experimental mobile designed to represent bus schedules, with arms that rise and fall concurrent with how close every bus should be. Other examples of information technologies that are supposed to offer users a minimum of distraction include executive dashboard programs that outline trends into simple charts, and computer displays that signal urgent or negative data through color changes. Rose claims that such devices can significantly modify user behavior, and cited a customer survey indicating that owners of Ambient's sphere interface now frequently trade and check their stock portfolios. However, Jennifer Mankoff of USC Berkeley cautions that "It's surprisingly hard to evaluate the usefulness of information people are not focusing on."
    (Access to this site is free; however, first-time visitors must register.)

  • "World Radiocommunication Conference Takes Up Fight Over Frequencies"
    Computerworld (06/10/03); Brewin, Bob

    The U.N.-sponsored World Radiocommunication Conference (WRC-03), held every three years, will discuss global standardization of Wi-Fi bandwidth allocation, broadband Internet for aircraft, and more powerful GPS satellite signals. The 172-person U.S. delegation will place a priority on securing new spectrum for Wi-Fi, but Atheros Communications global product compliance manager Michael Green says frequency coordination is equally important. The European Union and the United States have differing Wi-Fi restrictions and frequency allocations within the 5 GHz band, and standardizing those would lower costs significantly as well as increase confidence. The U.N. agency behind the conference, the International Telecommunications Union, says Wi-Fi operates in the same band used by radar, aircraft navigation systems, and earth-sensing satellites, and that it will be complicated to allocate new global spectrum resources. Boeing expects its in-flight Internet broadband service, Connexion, to be granted global spectrum in the 14 GHz to 14.5 GHz band. Also on the table are stronger GPS signals promoted by the United States for defeating enemy jamming, and frequency allocation for the EU's Galileo satellite navigation system. John Alden, a spokesman for the U.S. delegation to WRC-03, says the month-long event "touches on nearly every spectrum-dependent service and application that will drive the technological developments of the 21st century."
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  • "The Grand Unified Theory of Spam"
    Forbes (06/05/03); Herper, Matthew

    CipherTrust is in the business of developing hardware and software that counteracts viruses and worms, but chief technology officer Paul Judge acknowledges that early on he may have not fully understood the problem of unsolicited commercial email. But as chair of the Anti-Spam Research Group (ASRG) committee for the Internet Engineering Task Force, Judge is moving toward comprehending the problem. ASRG is comprised of some 600 members, many of them programmers from anti-spam companies, that are seeking to develop an understanding of the nature of spam that will ultimately help them in their effort to curb spam. Although ASRG believes it can reduce spam, the effort might force the overhaul of the Simple Mail Transfer Protocol, which is the system of movement for email from sender to server to receiver. The ASRG is considering several potential solutions, including adding consent tokens to messages from mailing lists and finding a way to determine who sends a message, the content of the message, how the message was sent, and who is the intended recipient. "There's no way in email to communicate whether a particular email message is something that the particular recipient has asked to receive," says Andrew Barrett, executive director of the nonprofit SpamCon Foundation and a member of the ASRG. The group believes that removing complete anonymity from spamming would help their cause. Moreover, ASRG members say that there will come a time when sending unsolicited email will not be an efficient way for spammers to make money.

  • "Artificial Beings Evolve Realistically"
    Technology Research News (06/11/03); Patch, Kimberly

    University researchers are studying the transmission of genetic code using simple computer programs that self-replicate in a contained environment. Michigan State University associate computer science professor Charles Ofria says the goal is to discover patterns in genetic evolution and what pressures influence them. While the study has clear implications for evolutionary and medical research, Ofria says discovering how information is passed from generation to generation is also of value to computer programmers. Ofria expects the computer science field to benefit from the new research within two years. The researchers found three distinct influencing pressures that made programs' genes smaller and easier to replicate, longer in order to perform more functions, and redundant to survive mutations. In living organisms, these pressures are manifested in the contrasting genetic sizes of viruses and larger animals. In the most complex experiment, the research showed many neutral mutations eventually benefited the organisms, though mutations in general have a detrimental short-term effect. The experiments lasted for 10,000 generations, and allowed researchers a detailed look at genetic change not possible with actual living organisms.
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  • "Bell Labs Eyes Broadband's Future"
    CNet (06/10/03); Charny, Ben

    Bell Labs President Jeff Jaffe says many of the presentations at this year's Supercomm 2003 conference ape Lucent's tack of providing end-to-end services for telecom customers. He says that even as Lucent continues to enhance hardware, telecommunications is following the PC sector in the growing importance of software. Hardware vendors are agreeing to standardize low-cost components while focusing on aspects that differentiate their products, such as management capabilities. Lucent is also working on IP SuperSEC, a security standard for high-speed wireless data transmission that would allow service providers to offer new services. That project tops Bell Labs' project agenda, while Jaffe sees home media convergence coming as well, with carriers' old copper network infrastructure becoming outmoded. Evidence of this was seen at Supercomm, with Verizon, Bellsouth, and SBC touting what they called fiber for the premises technology, that basically extends fiber-optic lines directly to the home. Jaffe says this huge leap in bandwidth will eventually double and triple network traffic each year so that carriers will need to re-engineer their metro Ethernet and network core. Lucent is teaming with Juniper Networks to market products and services based on the MPLS standard, which allows a number of services to be provided on a single connection.

  • "Taming the Beast"
    InformationWeek (06/09/03) No. 943, P. 34; Babcock, Charles; Ricadela, Aaron

    Maintaining outmoded systems can devour as much as 80 percent of IT budgets, according to Gartner's Dale Vecchio, and many companies are attempting to overcome the problem by switching from mainframe applications to Web services. However, Web-server applications may not be able to accommodate all interactions, especially those with a high degree of complexity. Gus Gil of HSBC Group's Household Finance International notes that legacy system reengineering or upgrading projects have failed time and again because of hidden costs, while Caterpillar CIO Sid Banwart writes in an email exchange that the heavy monitoring of IT budgets makes it difficult to implement upgrades. Meanwhile, companies that have successfully deployed legacy system upgrades must face the possibility that those reengineered systems could become legacy systems themselves. Motorola's Toby Redshaw says that systems cease being innovative and competitive after three years. A recent InformationWeek research poll of 200 business-technology professionals found that 82 percent of respondents considered making older applications more effective to be a definite problem, while 12 percent blamed company reticence as the reason for their legacy system difficulties; 61 percent attributed the problem to bad documentation, 59 percent to interoperability with other key enterprise software, and 16 percent to a paucity of vendor support. Vecchio reports that packaged applications, which many large companies chose so they could enter the client/server arena quickly, have to be tweaked to better serve the purchaser's business. Chris Capdevila's company, Logical Apps, was established to provide Oracle application users with a way to address legacy system problems by overlaying the apps with software that allows business rules to be altered while keeping the core apps consistent.
    Click Here to View Full Article

  • "A Psychologist in Cyberspace"
    Discover (06/03) Vol. 24, No. 6,; Glausiusz, Josie

    MIT psychologist Sherry Turkle has become an expert on the deep, emotional connections human beings make with the technology they use. She explains that computers, robotic toys, and other kinds of technology support such connections because they dovetail with people's "profound need to connect." Turkle observes that robot pets such as Sony's AIBO and the Tamagotchi are looked upon with affection because they fulfill the basic human need to nurture and care for something. She notes the excitement generated over the idea of creating robots that serve as nurses and companions for the elderly, but says that too many aspects of human interaction could be phased out unless the relationship between man and machine--and its social implications--is thoroughly studied. For instance, Turkle muses that if soldiers were replaced by machines, "the moral, ethical and human dimensions of what war is about would change." She believes that the integration of intelligent robots into daily life is inevitable, and people should start thinking about what tasks they will leave to robots (garbage collection or operations in hostile environments, for example) and what routines and processes will be exclusively human. Turkle says the Internet has significantly bolstered the human psyche by enabling people to imbue the technology with aspects of their self and personality that are otherwise physically restricted. She also approves of the Internet as a medium where one can play with one's identity, provided that such activity is separated from areas that support vital, identity-dependent transactions.
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  • "Exploring the 'Singularity'"
    Futurist (06/03) Vol. 37, No. 3, P. 18; Bell, James John

    Exponential technological development is expected to lead to the Singularity, a point where the results of technological change will become impossible to predict; the projected signs of the Singularity range from the integration of biological and non-biological systems to the surpassing of human intelligence by machine intelligence to self-replicating, atomic-scale machines. Author and inventor Ray Kurzweil and Sun Microsystems chief scientist Bill Joy agree that the human race will stand on the threshold of the Singularity around 2030, when three-dimensional computing--a physical interface between humans and computers--becomes possible. Scientists also think that the Singularity could come about through advancements in the fields of artificial intelligence or nanotechnology, while other researchers expect breakthroughs in quantum and molecular computing will generate new scientific standards that send exponential technological progress into overdrive. Bill Joy, for one, has said the seeds of "knowledge-enabled mass destruction" are being planted by the unchecked, mostly corporate development in self-replicating genetics, nanotech, and robots (GNR). There is a 30 percent to 50 percent chance that humanity may no longer exist by the time the Singularity is expected to arrive, given the current rate of technological progress and the global capitalist system, according to Joy. The military is also supporting the development and integration of autonomous, biotechnological, and human-robotic systems into its infrastructure, which could have even more devastating consequences than a nuclear exchange. The potential environmental ramifications of GNR technologies, as well as worries about the Singularity's effects, are largely absent from discussions in the United States. However, there are Singularity advocates who believe the acceleration of technological change will add, in the words of extropian activist Natasha Vita-More, "a new richness to the human landscape never before known."

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