Life Among the Internet Natives

Mock trial competition hinges on evidence from websites and tweets

3 min read
Life Among the Internet Natives

My two youngest children—now 14 and 11—are Internet natives. They relate to the Internet in the way I relate to running water—when I need water, I turn on the sink; when they need information, they open a browser. (My oldest child, now 18, isn’t quite in the same space; he’s more like someone who emigrated as a child, he’s comfortable, he speaks the language, but he still has connections to the old country. He’s been known to go to the library to find information he needs, for example.)

Since I’m a relatively happy Internet immigrant, I mostly forget how different the Internet has made my children’s world from the one I grew up in, and continues to change it. But sometimes I’m struck by the ubiquity of the technology. And it doesn’t always happen in the highest tech environment.

This year my daughter competed as part of her high school’s mock trial team. Mock trial is a high school competition, with county, state, and national tournaments.  Students study a case, field defense and prosecution teams, and then try the case in front of a real judge and a jury made up of legal experts. When I watched my daughter’s team compete as part of the California Mock Trial Program, the courtroom was as traditional as it gets—an old courthouse, heavy oak furniture, the judge in his black robes.

The case itself, however, a murder trial in which a comedian is accused of killing someone who gave him a bad review on an online ratings site, turned on Internet technology. There were no witnesses, no DNA evidence. There was a little low-tech evidence, in the form of tire tracks, but these only put the defendant’s car at the scene, not the defendant.

Instead, they had an email and two tweets.  To me, the Internet immigrant, it seemed odd that both the defense and the prosecution were whipping out this information as evidence; to the Internet natives on the teams, however, it made perfect sense, for what they do on the Internet is as real as what they do in the real world.

First, the email—the defendant sent a personal message to the critic through the online website, “YellUp” (perhaps a loosely disguised “Yelp), giving him a last chance to remove the review, and threatening, if he doesn’t, “to do more than ruin [his] livelihood”. The detective (my daughter) has discovered this during a search; up for pretrial debate--was that search was legal? The detective had a warrant to search the defendant’s car, house, and computer, and all records or information on purchases, no matter where stored. She viewed the browser history, then clicked through into the Yell-Up site to find the message. The pretrial arguments centered on whether or not this was admissible under the search warrant, since YellUp is not a shopping site, or whether only data on the computer itself should have been searched, and not data in the cloud.

Then, there was a twitter message, also introduced by the prosecution. The defendant tweets, "I'm going to kill tonight and shut up the critics once and for all." The defense didn’t argue that tweets should be inadmissible as evidence, but instead brought forward witnesses who explain that “kill” is a term used by comedians to describe putting on a great show.

The prosecution wasn't the only team pulling evidence out of the Internet. The defense brought out a tweet as an alibi, arguing that the defendant couldn’t have murdered the victim at the time in question because he had tweeted from a computer, not a phone, around the same time.

My daughter’s team was knocked out at the county level, having won a few and lost a few. But other teenagers around the country will continue for the next few months to argue a murder case based on Internet evidence. And they won’t realize at all that they really are living in a new world.

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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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