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The Download, Feb 24, 2017: Autonomous Car Cribbing, Tech’s Tax Trouble, and Smartphone Stress

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February 24, 2017

Three Things You Need to Know Today

Alphabet Sues Uber Over Self-Driving Secrets
Uber’s autonomous car technology may not be all its own work. Waymo, the self-driving car division of Alphabet, claims that one of its former engineers, Anthony Levandowski, covertly downloaded 14,000 files from its servers a month before he left the company. He then set up the self-driving truck firm Otto, which was quickly acquired by Uber, and, Waymo alleges, used the files to develop new lidar sensors for the ride-hailer's autonomous vehicles. It’s the latest twist in a tale that’s seeing Alphabet and Uber become increasingly strong rivals.

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Trump’s Tax Plans Could Harm Tech 
The new president will reform tax—but may stifle innovation in the process. Trump has promised to introduce a “phenomenal” tax plan in the next few weeks, which will be unashamedly pro-business: it's expected, among other things, to cut corporate tax and reward exporters. But while that might be good news for cash-rich tech giants like Google and Microsoft, it may ultimately discourage innovation among smaller companies. Here’s why.

Reversing Paralysis, For Real
Scientists could soon restore the freedom of movement that spinal cord injuries take away. One of our 10 breakthrough technologies of 2017 is the use of brain implants that can decipher intentions to move in the brain, then convert them into bursts of electrical stimulation to bring motion to previously still limbs. While it was once a science fiction dream, our own Antonio Regalado visited the laboratories where this research is taking place and found that the technology can now help a paralyzed monkey to walk once more.

Ten Fascinating Things  

Do you check your phone when you wake up? Over breakfast? On the train? In ... the bathroom? Of course you do. And you’re probably totally stressed out, too.

When machines can learn for themselves, they’ll become far more useful. Here’s how reinforcement learning is making that a reality.

Look forward to (slightly) nicer comment sections: troll-fighting AI developed by Alphabet is now available to anyone who wants to clean up online discussions.

A $500 device promises to improve precision operations in hospitals that can’t afford a $2 million surgical robot.

How can you make it rain in the desert? Using a drone that creates clouds by dropping silver iodide into the skies.

Synthetic silk is light, strong—and always a few years from commercial reality. Finally, we’re starting to see the first prototype products made from the material.

How the world’s only piece of metallic hydrogen disappeared.

Google has cracked an aged, but widely used, encryption protocol known as Secure Hash Algorithm 1 and is urging people to stop using it, like, yesterday.

The U.S. has enjoyed an unseasonably warm February. The Atlantic asks: is it OK to enjoy the weather, even if we know it’s a sign that the planet is suffering?

When it was tigers versus a drone, there was only ever going to be one winner.

Quote of the Day 

"The fights between bots can be far more persistent than the ones we see between people. Humans usually cool down after a few days, but the bots might continue for years.”

— Taha Yasseri, a researcher from the Oxford Internet Institute, explains why bot-on-bot Wikipedia edit wars could prove problematic.


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