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Sometime in mid-2019, a police contractor in the Chinese city of Kuitun tapped a young college student from the University of Washington on the shoulder as she walked through a crowded market intersection. The student, Vera Zhou, didn’t notice the tapping at first because she was listening to music through her earbuds as she weaved through the crowd. When she turned around and saw the black uniform, the blood drained from her face. Speaking in Chinese, Vera’s native language, the police officer motioned her into a nearby People’s Convenience Police Station—one of more than 7,700 such surveillance hubs that now dot the region.       

On a monitor in the boxy gray building, she saw her face surrounded by a yellow square. On other screens she saw pedestrians walking through the market, their faces surrounded by green squares. Beside the high-definition video still of her face, her personal data appeared in a black text box. It said that she was Hui, a member of a Chinese Muslim group that makes up around 1 million of the population of 15 million Muslims in Northwest China. The alarm had gone off because she had walked beyond the parameters of the policing grid of her neighborhood confinement. As a former detainee in a re-education camp, she was not officially permitted to travel to other areas of town without explicit permission from both her neighborhood watch unit and the Public Security Bureau. The yellow square around her face on the screen indicated that she had once again been deemed a “pre-criminal” by the digital enclosure system that held Muslims in place. Vera said at that moment she felt as though she could hardly breathe.                    

This story is an edited excerpt from In the Camps: China’s High-Tech Penal Colony by Darren Byler (Columbia Global Reports, 2021.)

Kuitun is a small city of around 285,000 in Xinjiang’s Tacheng Prefecture, along the Chinese border with Kazakhstan. Vera had been trapped there since 2017 when, in the middle of her junior year as a geography student at the University of Washington (where I was an instructor), she had taken a spur-of-the-moment trip back home to see her boyfriend. After a night at a movie theater in the regional capital Ürümchi, her boyfriend received a call asking him to come to a local police station. There, officers told him they needed to question his girlfriend: they had discovered some suspicious activity in Vera’s internet usage, they said. She had used a virtual private network, or VPN, in order to access “illegal websites,” such as her university Gmail account. This, they told her later, was a “sign of religious extremism.”   

It took some time for what was happening to dawn on Vera. Perhaps since her boyfriend was a non-Muslim from the majority Han group and they did not want him to make a scene, at first the police were quite indirect about what would happen next. They just told her she had to wait in the station. 

When she asked if she was under arrest, they refused to respond. 

“Just have a seat,” they told her. By this time she was quite frightened, so she called her father back in her hometown and told him what was happening. Eventually, a police van pulled up to the station: She was placed in the back, and once her boyfriend was out of sight, the police shackled her hands behind her back tightly and shoved her roughly into the back seat.     

Pre-criminals

Vera Zhou didn’t think the war on terror had anything to do with her. She considered herself a non-religious fashionista who favored chunky earrings and dressing in black. She had gone to high school near Portland, Oregon, and was on her way to becoming an urban planner at a top-ranked American university. She had planned to reunite with her boyfriend after graduation and have a career in China, where she thought of the economy as booming. She had no idea that a new internet security law had been implemented in her hometown and across Xinjiang at the beginning of 2017, and that this was how extremist “pre-criminals,” as state authorities referred to them, were being identified for detention. She did not know

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By: Darren Byler
Title: The covid tech that is intimately tied to China’s surveillance state
Sourced From: www.technologyreview.com/2021/10/11/1036582/darren-byler-xinjiang-china-uyghur-surveillance/
Published Date: Mon, 11 Oct 2021 11:00:00 +0000

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The Download: Trump’s potential climate impact, and the end of cheap helium

This is today’s edition of The Download our weekday newsletter that provides a daily dose of what’s going on in the world of technology.

Trump wants to unravel Biden’s landmark climate law. Here is what’s most at risk.

President Joe Biden’s crowning legislative achievement was enacting the Inflation Reduction Act, easily the nation’s largest investment into addressing the rising dangers of climate change.

Yet Donald Trump’s advisors and associates have clearly indicated that dismantling the landmark law would sit at the top of the Republican front-runner’s to-do list should he win the presidential election.

If he succeeds, it could stall the nation’s shift to cleaner industries and stunt efforts to cut the greenhouse-gas pollution warming the planet. The IRA’s tax credits for EVs and clean power projects appear especially vulnerable. But lots of other provisions could also come under attack. Read the full story.

—James Temple

The era of cheap helium is over—and that’s already causing problems

Helium is excellent at conducting heat. And at temperatures close to absolute zero, at which most other materials would freeze solid, helium remains a liquid. That makes it a perfect refrigerant for anything that must be kept very cold.

Liquid helium is therefore essential to any technology that uses superconducting magnets, including MRI scanners and some fusion reactors. Helium also cools particle accelerators, quantum computers, and the infrared detectors on the James Webb Space Telescope.

“It’s a critical element for the future,” says Richard Clarke, a UK-based helium resources consultant. However, it’s also played a critical role throughout the history of technology development, while remaining in tight supply.

As part of MIT Technology Review’s 125th anniversary series, we looked back at our coverage of how helium became such an important resource, and considered how demand might change in the future. Read the full story.

—Amy Nordrum

How Antarctica’s history of isolation is ending—thanks to Starlink

“This is one of the least visited places on planet Earth and I got to open the door,” Matty Jordan, a construction specialist at New Zealand’s Scott Base in Antarctica, wrote in the caption to the video he posted to Instagram and TikTok in October 2023.

In the video, he guides viewers through the hut, pointing out where the men of Ernest Shackleton’s 1907 expedition lived and worked.

The video has racked up millions of views from all over the world. It’s also kind of a miracle: until very recently, those who lived and worked on Antarctic bases had no hope of communicating so readily with the outside world.

That’s starting to change, thanks to Starlink, the satellite constellation developed by Elon Musk’s company SpaceX to service the world with high-speed broadband internet. Read the full story.

—Allegra Rosenberg

Wikimedia’s CTO: In the age of AI, human contributors still matter

Selena Deckelmann is the chief product and technology officer at the Wikimedia Foundation, the nonprofit that hosts and manages Wikipedia.

There she not only guides one of the most turned-to sources of information in the world but serves a vast community of “Wikipedians,” the hundreds of thousands of real-life individuals who spend their free time writing, editing, and discussing entries—in more than 300 languages—to make Wikipedia what it is today.

It is undeniable that technological advances and cultural shifts have transformed our online universe over the years—especially with the recent surge in AI-generated content—but Deckelmann still isn’t afraid of people on the internet. She believes they are its future. Read the full story.

—Rebecca Ackermann

The two stories above are from the next issue of MIT Technology Review, all about hidden worlds. It’s set to go live on Wednesday—subscribe now to get your copy!

The must-reads

I’ve combed the internet to find you today’s most fun/important/scary/fascinating stories about technology.

1 The Supreme Court will decide whether states can control social media
It’ll start hearing arguments today about whether laws aimed at controlling online platforms in Texas and Florida are constitutional. (WP $)
Here’s what you need to know. (NYT $)
Texas’s law is dangerous. Striking it down could be even worse. (The Atlantic $)

2 Celebrities are being ‘deepfaked’ for adverts
AI-generated videos have them endorsing and promoting things they’ve never even heard of. (BBC)
These companies show why the next AI wave won’t revolve around chatbots. (Fast Company)

3 Inside TikTok’s live money-making machine
Live streaming can be hugely lucrative—for both the creator and TikTok

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By: Charlotte Jee
Title: The Download: Trump’s potential climate impact, and the end of cheap helium
Sourced From: www.technologyreview.com/2024/02/26/1088958/climate-impact-trump-cheap-helium/
Published Date: Mon, 26 Feb 2024 13:12:00 +0000

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Meet the divers trying to figure out how deep humans can go

Unknown R1 scaled

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Two hundred thirty meters into one of the deepest underwater caves on Earth, Richard “Harry” Harris knew that not far ahead of him was a 15-meter drop leading to a place no human being had seen before. 

Getting there had taken two helicopters, three weeks of test dives, two tons of equipment, and hard work to overcome an unexpected number of technical problems. But in the moment, Harris was hypnotized by what was before him: the vast, black, gaping unknown.

Staring into it, he felt the familiar pull—maybe he could go just a little farther. Instead, he looked to his diving partner, Craig Challen, floating a few feet to his right. They had both been diving increasingly dangerous and unplumbed caves for years, making them two of only a handful of people with the skills to assist in the rescue of the Thai soccer team that got trapped in one in 2018. They knew extreme risk, and each other, well. Even through the goggles and the mouthpiece of the breathing apparatus, its four thick hoses curling around his face like mammoth tusks, Harris could see that Challen felt the same way. They both wanted very badly to push forward into the dark expanse.

Instead, on Harris’s cue, they turned back. They weren’t there to exceed 245 meters—a depth they’d reached three years earlier. Nor were they there to set a depth record—that would mean going past 308 meters. They were there to test what they saw as a possible key to unlocking depths beyond even 310 meters: breathing hydrogen.

The problem has existed for more than a century: How can a human body withstand underwater pressure significantly past its natural threshold? Naval units and offshore oil companies around the world have long been invested in figuring it out for power and profit, and in the 1970s and ’80s their research began filtering into the civilian world, where people were testing the limits of their own curiosity.

Dr. Richard
In 2023, Richard Harris made an experimental dive to determine
whether hydrogen could enable exploration at greater depths.COURTESY OF RICHARD HARRIS

This included people like Sheck Exley, a high school math teacher in Live Oak, Florida. Exley became an international icon in the diving community for his record-breaking dives—exceeding, in some cases, the limits of the military and commercial professionals. He had been diving the underwater caves of North Florida since he was a teen—by 1972, at age 23, he was the first person in the world to log 1,000 cave dives—and exploring them is what pushed him to go deeper. He’d been hooked since his first cave dive in Crystal River, Florida, in 1966. “I kind of wandered off into the cavern there, my eyes adjusted, and I swam a little bit further, peering off into the darkness,” he told AquaCorps, a magazine for divers, in 1992. “I guess I’ve been peering off into that darkness ever since.”

At around 40 meters, breathing the gas mixture we call air—78% nitrogen, 21% oxygen, and 1% trace gases—causes inert gas narcosis, or the “martini effect,” named for the incapacitating state it induces. A little deeper and oxygen becomes toxic. For years, the US and British navies had been using helium to dilute the oxygen and nitrogen in a diver’s tank as a means of counteracting both these problems, but few outsiders knew about it. In 1981, after the German cave diver Jochen Hasenmayer reached 143 meters using a helium mixture, Exley started using it as well—despite the knowledge that only a few years earlier, two divers in Florida had experimented with the mixture and died.

Divers who go past 40 meters typically don’t use a constant gas ratio—they cycle through mixes of nitrogen, oxygen, and helium as they descend and ascend, modifying them according to location, water temperature, neurological tolerance to narcosis, and many other variables. Decompression tables, which lay out different gas mixtures and the amount of time to be spent breathing them, provide a precise road map for this process—very necessary, as ascending too quickly releases the accumulated gases in a diver’s blood and tissue the way unscrewing the cap

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By: Samantha Schuyler
Title: Meet the divers trying to figure out how deep humans can go
Sourced From: www.technologyreview.com/2024/02/21/1088013/divers-hydrogen-deep-water-diving-underwater-pressure/
Published Date: Wed, 21 Feb 2024 10:00:00 +0000

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https://mansbrand.com/how-tracking-animal-movement-may-save-the-planet/

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How tracking animal movement may save the planet

Tiger Shark with biolog package M Y Sharkwater 2019 scaled

There was something strange about the way the sharks were moving between the islands of the Bahamas.

Tiger sharks tend to hug the shoreline, explains marine biologist Austin Gallagher, but when he began tagging the 1,000-pound animals with satellite transmitters in 2016, he discovered that these predators turned away from it, toward two ancient underwater hills made of sand and coral fragments that stretch out 300 miles toward Cuba. They were spending a lot of time “crisscrossing, making highly tortuous, convoluted movements” to be near them, Gallagher says.

It wasn’t immediately clear what attracted sharks to the area: while satellite images clearly showed the subsea terrain, they didn’t pick up anything out of the ordinary. It was only when Gallagher and his colleagues attached 360-degree cameras to the animals that they were able to confirm what they were so drawn to: vast, previously unseen seagrass meadows—a biodiverse habitat that offered a smorgasbord of prey.

The discovery did more than solve a minor mystery of animal behavior. Using the data they gathered from the sharks, the researchers were able to map an expanse of seagrass stretching across 93,000 square kilometers of Caribbean seabed—extending the total known global seagrass coverage by more than 40%, according to a study Gallagher’s team published in 2022. This revelation could have huge implications for efforts to protect threatened marine ecosystems—seagrass meadows are a nursery for one-fifth of key fish stocks and habitats for endangered marine species—and also for all of us above the waves, as seagrasses can capture carbon up to 35 times faster than tropical rainforests.

Animals have long been able to offer unique insights about the natural world around us, acting as organic sensors picking up phenomena that remain invisible to humans. More than 100 years ago, leeches signaled storms ahead by slithering out of the water; canaries warned of looming catastrophe in coal mines until the 1980s; and mollusks that close when exposed to toxic substances are still used to trigger alarms in municipal water systems in Minneapolis and Poland.

a tiger shark seen underwater with a camera on its flank
Attaching 360-degree cameras to tiger sharks helped demystify the
animals’ strange movements around the Bahamas.COURTESY OF BENEATH THE WAVES

These days, we have more insight into animal behavior than ever before thanks to sensor tags, which have helped researchers answer key questions about globe-spanning migrations and the sometimes hard-to-reach places animals visit along the way. In turn, tagged animals have increasingly become partners in scientific discovery and planetary monitoring.

But the data we gather from these animals still adds up to only a relatively narrow slice of the whole picture. Results are often confined to silos, and for many years tags were big and expensive, suitable only for a handful of animal species—like tiger sharks—that are powerful (or large) enough to transport them.

This is beginning to change. Researchers are asking: What will we find if we follow even the smallest animals? What if we could monitor a sample of all the world’s wildlife to see how different species’ lives intersect? What could we learn from a big-data system of animal movement, continuously monitoring how creatures big and small adapt to the world around us? It may be, some researchers believe, a vital tool in the effort to save our increasingly crisis-plagued planet.

Wearables for the wild

Just a few years ago, a project called ICARUS seemed ready to start answering the big questions about animal movement.

A team led by Martin Wikelski, a director at the Max Planck Institute of Animal Behavior in southern Germany and a pioneer in the field, launched a new generation of affordable and lightweight GPS sensors that could be worn by animals as small as songbirds, fish, and rodents.

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By: Matthew Ponsford
Title: How tracking animal movement may save the planet
Sourced From: www.technologyreview.com/2024/02/22/1088116/internet-of-animals-movement-research-earth/
Published Date: Thu, 22 Feb 2024 10:00:00 +0000

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