French Election Hacks, Stealing Passwords From Your Brain, and Zuck for Dinner—The Download, May 8, 2017

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May 8, 2017

The world’s largest electric vehicle maker is having a bumpy ride (and no, it's not Tesla).
You might not have heard of BYD. But the Chinese firm is the world’s largest electric vehicle maker—boasting sales growth of roughly 45 percent per annum over the last two years, capable of producing as many as 900 of its cars per day, and, along with Tesla, dramatically driving down the cost of batteries. But like Elon Musk’s venture, BYD is also facing a reality of declining subsidies. We investigate how the Chinese automaker plans to surmount the problem.

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The French election hack has been tied to a Russian state-linked cyber group.
Yesterday, France elected Emmanuel Macron as president. But that’s despite an unwelcome last-minute leak of his campaign's documents on Friday. The Guardian reports that cyber security firms believe the attack was carried out by a hacking group sometimes known as Fancy Bear—a collective linked with Russian intelligence services and believed to be behind last year’s U.S. election hacks. Now, the U.K. will brace for trouble ahead of its own elections next month.

One day, someone could pluck passwords right out of your brain.
That may sound like sci-fi doom-mongering, but as more firms jump on the neurone-tapping bandwagon it could become a problem. Our own Tom Simonite reports that some researchers have shown that machine learning algorithms can spot links between brain signals and a person’s typing, making it far easier to guess their password. The logical extension: that our minds could be hacked if the security of brain-computer interfaces isn’t properly locked down.

Ten Fascinating Things

  1. Homelessness in New York City is at the highest levels seen since the Great Depression. This time, the city hopes to use data to help solve the problem.
  2. We often worry about automation's impact on the labor market. But how would we find meaning in a life where robots do all of our work?
  3. Here's a laser printer like no other: bursts of light shape pillars of germanium to create images 50 nanometers across at resolutions of 127,000 DPI.
  4. For a year, Uber and Lyft haven’t operated in Austin, Texas due to tight regulations. Now, they’re preparing to make a comeback.
  5. Heat and cool a lump of material fast enough and it can generate sound. And if that lump is graphene, it can act as an amplifier and graphic equalizer, too.
  6. Artifical intelligence may have mastered poker, but it failed to predict the outcome of this year’s Kentucky Derby.
  7. Want to show up on the streets? Perhaps you should try wearing an outfit that includes the world's most visible item of clothing.
  8. Light in homes is often too dim to power solar cells, but a new device gobbles up indoor photons to generate electricity with surprising efficiency.
  9. Disappointed that Siri and Alexa rebuff your attempts to develop a more personal relationship? Japanese startup Vinclu might be able to help.
  10. What’s it like to host Mark Zuckerberg for an impromptu dinner? This.

Quote of the Day

"VR allows you to feel present in a way that I don’t think we have ever seen before. It’s such a primal, visceral reaction."

— Facebook's head of social VR, Rachel Franklin, explains why avatars are such a crucial part of the way we'll use virtual reality in the future.