Most of us probably have a vision of how “The Robots” will eventually rise up and deal humanity out of the game. We’ve all seen that movie, of course, and know exactly what will happen when SkyNet becomes self-aware. But for those of you thinking we’ll get off relatively easy with a quick nuclear armageddon, we’re sorry to bear the news that AI seems to have other plans for us, at least if this report of dodgy AI-generated mushroom foraging manuals is any indication. It seems that Amazon is filled with publications these days that do a pretty good job of looking like they’re written by human subject matter experts, but are actually written by ChatGPT or similar tools. That may not be such a big deal when the subject matter concerns stamp collecting or needlepoint, but when it concerns differentiating edible fungi from toxic ones, that’s a different matter. The classic example is the Death Cap mushroom (Amanita phalloides) which varies quite a bit in identifying characteristics like color and size, enough so that it’s often tough for expert mycologists to tell it apart from its edible cousins. Trouble is, when half a Death Cap contains enough toxin to kill an adult human, the margin for error is much narrower than what AI is likely to include in a foraging manual. So maybe that’s AI’s grand plan for humanity — just give us all really bad advice and let Darwin take care of the rest.
We had to check the calendar on this one to make sure we hadn’t Rip van Winkle-d all the way to the next March-April interface before diving into this one: US spooks are spending $22 million to develop “smart underwear.” They’ve even got a cool acronym — “Smart Electrically Powered and Networked Textile Systems,” or Smart ePANTS. The popular press is all over the “surveillance undies” thing, and understandably so — who wants sensors built into a garment in such close contact with your most private areas? But if you read into it a bit, the idea starts to make sense, at least how IARPA — the intelligence community’s answer to DARPA — is pitching it. They’re saying that people on sensitive missions, like arms inspections, are often so laden with electronics that it’s hazardous for them to negotiate ladders and catwalks in industrial facilities where arms-control treaty violations are likely to occur. Putting all that electronic junk in with your junk might just make the job easier. It’s not lost on us that this could be a massive benefit to espionage in general, too. It’s intriguing, but we hate to think about what happens when this technology leaks out to the consumer market, as it inevitably will. It’s bad enough that you can buy a new car that doesn’t spy on you.
When you look through US government auction sites, you never know what interesting things you’ll come across. We’ve been tempted a few times, mostly by equipment like military surplus generators and old government vehicles, but we’ve never pulled the trigger on anything. Nor are we likely to on our latest find, which is — well, the entire remaining US strategic stockpile of helium. Digging into this a bit, it looks like the government is auctioning 800 million cubic feet of stored helium as well as helium and natural gas interests on 38,000 acres of land, 423 miles of pipeline easements, and the entire Cliffside Gas Plant in Amarillo, Texas. Depending on your interests, you can bid on either the helium alone or the whole shebang, which includes the facility that refines crude helium into clean, pure monoatomic gas. The remaining helium in the reserve is the merest fraction of what was once stored there — 44 billion cubic feet in its heyday — but still nothing to sneeze at; it’s enough to fill 123 WWII Akron-class airships, if that’s what you’re into.
By now you’ve probably heard about India’s successful Chandrayaan-3 landing near the Moon’s south pole, which was preceded by the not-so-successful Luna-25 attempt by Russia. On the latter, NASA has released before-and-after photos that show what’s most likely Luna-25’s final resting place. The pictures were taken about two months apart by the indispensable Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, which never fails to return fascinating high-resolution photos of the Moon’s surface. The LRO team’s analysis of the new crater, which is about ten meters wide, suggests it wasn’t made by a natural impactor, given the angle of attack and the fact that it’s along Luna-25’s path and about 400 km short of the planned landing zone. RIP Luna-25.
Some would say any Windows is too much Windows, but that didn’t stop someone from trying to run Windows within Windows ad nauseam. Aptly dubbed Winception, the demo starts with a moderately powerful laptop running Windows 11, which then starts up a VMWare session of Windows 10, which launches Windows 8.1, then Windows 8, followed at last by Windows 7. It’s Windows all the way down, at least until launching Windows DOS on the Win7 VM, which breaks the fenestration chain a bit. It sounds like performance down the line would be awful, but it’s really not that bad — a little sluggish, perhaps, but really not that far off of what the perceived performance would have been when running each OS on top-of-the-line tech at the time it was released. We’d love to see how far down this could go — XP? Windows 95? Dare we hope for NT or Windows 3.1?
And finally, if your appetite runs more toward the Apple ecosystem but you lack the funds for the latest iPhone, fear not — all you need is a sharp set of chompers. As the story goes, a woman phone shopping in China was taken aback by the steep price of an iPhone 14. Rather than dish out for the phone, she allegedly decided to take off with a display unit, only to be thwarted by the security cable tethering the phone to the display. Undaunted, she proceeded to chew her way through the plastic-coated steel cable, liberating the phone — at least for the 30 minutes it took police to track her down. It sounds like an almost superhuman feat, but when you think about it, it’s not much different than stripping stranded copper wire with your teeth. And once she was past the plastic covering, it would have been pretty easy to twist the underlying steel cable enough to get individual strands exposed, which would be trivial to clamp between your teeth and bend until they break. How she managed to do all this without raising suspicions of the “Geniuses” staffing the store is hard to imagine; then again, maybe it’s not.