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Facebook Connections Can Boost Voting

Online “social contagion” leads to real-world behavior, shows a study of the 2010 U.S. election

2 min read
Facebook notification that user has voted.
Image: James Fowler/UC San Diego

12 September 2012—Back in the day, when your mother asked you whether you’d jump off a bridge if your friends did it, her aim was to demonstrate the perils of being a follower. But we’re all followers now, and peer pressure isn’t necessarily negative. That fact was made abundantly clear in an experiment conducted by researchers at the University of California, San Diego. In a report published this week in Nature, they show that the online influence of peers could get voters to the polls.

On the day of the 2010 national election, they used all adults in the United States who logged on to their Facebook accounts as guinea pigs. Of the 61 million voting-age Facebook users who went to the site that day, roughly 98 percent were shown a “social message” that appeared at the top of their news feeds. This message not only encouraged users to vote and provided information about how to find their local polling places, but it also displayed a clickable “I Voted” button. People randomly assigned to the social-message group were also shown a counter that kept track of the total number of Facebook users who had clicked their “I Voted” buttons, and as many as six randomly chosen profile pictures of their Facebook friends who had done so. 

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Metamaterials Could Solve One of 6G’s Big Problems

There’s plenty of bandwidth available if we use reconfigurable intelligent surfaces

12 min read
An illustration depicting cellphone users at street level in a city, with wireless signals reaching them via reflecting surfaces.

Ground level in a typical urban canyon, shielded by tall buildings, will be inaccessible to some 6G frequencies. Deft placement of reconfigurable intelligent surfaces [yellow] will enable the signals to pervade these areas.

Chris Philpot

For all the tumultuous revolution in wireless technology over the past several decades, there have been a couple of constants. One is the overcrowding of radio bands, and the other is the move to escape that congestion by exploiting higher and higher frequencies. And today, as engineers roll out 5G and plan for 6G wireless, they find themselves at a crossroads: After years of designing superefficient transmitters and receivers, and of compensating for the signal losses at the end points of a radio channel, they’re beginning to realize that they are approaching the practical limits of transmitter and receiver efficiency. From now on, to get high performance as we go to higher frequencies, we will need to engineer the wireless channel itself. But how can we possibly engineer and control a wireless environment, which is determined by a host of factors, many of them random and therefore unpredictable?

Perhaps the most promising solution, right now, is to use reconfigurable intelligent surfaces. These are planar structures typically ranging in size from about 100 square centimeters to about 5 square meters or more, depending on the frequency and other factors. These surfaces use advanced substances called metamaterials to reflect and refract electromagnetic waves. Thin two-dimensional metamaterials, known as metasurfaces, can be designed to sense the local electromagnetic environment and tune the wave’s key properties, such as its amplitude, phase, and polarization, as the wave is reflected or refracted by the surface. So as the waves fall on such a surface, it can alter the incident waves’ direction so as to strengthen the channel. In fact, these metasurfaces can be programmed to make these changes dynamically, reconfiguring the signal in real time in response to changes in the wireless channel. Think of reconfigurable intelligent surfaces as the next evolution of the repeater concept.

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