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Alaska's Online Voting Leaves Cybersecurity Experts Worried

Some Americans who lined up at the ballot boxes on Tuesday may have wished for the convenience of online voting. But cybersecurity experts continue to argue that such systems would be vulnerable to vote tampering — warnings that did not stop Alaska from allowing voters to cast electronic ballots in a major election that had both a Senate seat and the governorship up for grabs.

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Body Sensors Help Dogs 'Talk' to Humans

Throughout history, dogs have learned to obey the hand signals and voice commands of people. Now a new two-way communication system could give man’s best friend a new way to talk back to his or her human handler.

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Technologists Hatch "Turtle Sense" System With Ecology and Economy in Mind

A group of volunteer technologists that goes by the name Nerds Without Borders has made some recent progress addressing an interesting environmental problem: protecting sea turtle nests at Cape Hatteras National Seashore on North Carolina’s Outer Banks. The National Park Service puts quite a bit of effort into ensuring that sea turtle nests there are not disturbed, but it’s a thorny problem.

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Biomedical Entrepreneur Jonathan Rothberg Is Up to Something Again

It ususally doesn’t count for much when entrepreneurs declare that their new company will change the world—although they can’t tell you how, or when, or actually any details at all. But Jonathan Rothberg has two things going for him that make his vague proclamations about his new company, Butterfly Network, noteworthy: money and a track record. 

Rothberg announced yesterday that Butterfly Network has raised $100 million to create a device/system/something-or-other that will “transform medical imaging and non-invasive surgery by leveraging advances in semiconductors, deep learning, and cloud computing.” That’s not chump change. 

And then there’s Rothberg’s backstory. The serial entrepreneur first founded a company called 454 Life Sciences and invented a new technique for cheap and fast genome sequencing, which made it practical to scan the entire genome of an individual. He sold the company to Roche for $155 million. Then Rothberg founded Ion Torrent and invented an even cheaper and faster sequencing machine that IEEE Spectrum covered a few years ago. He sold that company to Life Technologies for $725 million. 

So Butterfly Network might be worth watching. In a conversation with Spectrum, Rothberg said that the company’s mysterious device will offer fast, cheap, and high-resolution medical images. The images will be stored on the cloud, where the company’s mysterious artificial intelligence program will go through them and begin to learn all about radiology.

“There are AI techniques that can keep up with the information without getting bottlenecked,” Rothberg says. “So you have services that make humans more efficient, whether they’re radiologists or genetic counselors.” Over time, Rothberg says, the system could grow proficient enough to do much of the doctor’s work. “There are only 38 radiologists in Uganda,” he says. “Nobody will complain if we make them 1000 times as efficient.”  

Butterfly Network is one of four companies that Rothberg is nurturing at his new incubator, 4Combinator. Rothberg is speaking to the press, apparently, because he’s on a hiring spree and wants to spread the word. “I need the best and the brightest,” Rothberg said, adding that he hopes to steal talent not only from tech companies like Google, Baidu, Facebook, and Netflix (!), but also from finance firms. “I want to get the smartest people in Goldman Sachs to come do something else with their lives,” he says. 

First Terahertz Amplifier "Goes to 11"

The world’s first radio amplifier operating at terahertz frequencies could lead to communications systems with much higher data rates, better radar, high-resolution imaging that could penetrate smoke and fog, and better ways of identifying dangerous substances, say the researchers who built it.

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Tiny Cancer-Killing Death Rays: Spaser Therapy Proposed

Encircling tumors with a phalanx of miniature lasers could offer a new way to battle cancer, a team of Australian researchers is proposing.

Technically, the proposed device isn’t really a laser at all, but a spaser, with surface plasmons rather than light undergoing amplification. Plasmons are oscillations in electron density created in the surface of a small metal object when photons strike it. It’s possible to design a device so that the plasmons feed back on themselves, amplifying in much the same way photons bouncing around a laser cavity stimulate the emission of other photons, creating laser light.

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A New Kind of Atom Trap Chip for Quantum Computers

Ultracold atoms have long been on the list of potential parts for quantum computers. Early experiments were done with tabletop experimental gear, more recently, but researchers have also designed chips on which these atoms can be trapped and cooled to near absolute zero. (Some such chips even achieved the strange physical state known as a Bose Einstein condensates.) However, even the chip-based traps had to be surrounded by a complicated sets of coils to create the required magnetic field for trapping them.

Now a team of scientists at the University of Sussex in Brighton, UK, have come up with a proposal, detailed last week in Nature Communications, to build a better atom trap chip. They show that a conducting loop about 100 micrometers across will allow the creation of a magnetic field that traps the atoms inside the loop. They hope that arrays of such loops could form the basis of a quantum computing chip.

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Vibrating Shoes Restore Balance for Seniors

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Some good vibrations in the shoes of elderly people could prevent potentially fatal falls in old age. In a new study, researchers show that imperceptible vibrations in shoe soles can improve balance for seniorsa technological breakthrough that could offset the usual decline in the human sense of touch and instinctive balance.

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Orbital's Rocket Disaster Narrows Space Station Resupply Options

The explosion of an Orbital Sciences rocket carrying supplies to the International Space Station signaled more than the loss of a $200 million mission on Tuesday. The incident marked the first disaster of a commercial resupply mission to the space station since NASA put the responsibility in the hands of private U.S. contractors. It’s a turn of events that will likely leave the supply runs in the hands of Orbital’s competitor SpaceX and Russia in the near future.

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