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05.16.16 | 2:57 pm

Was the meeting on the ethics of a synthetic human genome too secretive? 

Last week, news broke that a group of biotech industry insiders had met behind closed doors to discuss the potential for a "synthetic human genome," stirring up a firestorm. 

In the wake of public outrage, some bioethicists and scientists have questioned whether this meeting should have been private in the first place. If it were open to the public, would it have stirred up so much fear? And shouldn't we be having these important conversations out in the open? 

More here on the ethics of creating a synthetic human genome. 

06.26.17 | an hour ago

Apple rents a few SUVs from Hertz, Hertz shares jump 14%

Apple is renting a small fleet of vehicles from Hertz, according to DMV documents seen by Bloomberg. Apple will reportedly use the vehicles to test autonomous driving software and sensor systems. 

Hertz investors have been looking for something to feel good about after seeing the company's stock drop by 75% over the past year. Some implied role for Hertz in the self-driving future seems to have done the trick. 

And Avis stock got its biggest jolt in five years (+21%) earlier on Monday after Alphabet said its Waymo autonomous driving division will pay the rental company to store and manage a few of its autonomous testing vehicles in Phoenix. 

06.26.17 | 2 hours ago

Get ready to (maybe) hear a lot more ads on your favorite podcasts

According to a recent study by the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB), ad revenue from podcasts is about to go way up. Last year, podcast ad revenue was about $119 million; this year, that number is projected to hit $220 million. 

Thus far, a podcast's success has been measured by number of downloads; beyond that, however, many advertisers have had little sense of how many people are actually listening to their ads, beyond tracking promo code usage. (Ad skipping is a phenomenon in podcasting, too.) Podcast creators, too, received little feedback. But as Apple beefs up its podcast analytics, advertisers and creators alike can be smarter about how they spend their money. So while IAB's study indicates that advertisers will be pouring a lot more money into podcasting, the podcast ad biz is still young, so we don't want to make any proclamations just yet. 

06.26.17 | 4 hours ago

Missouri women are a Senate vote away from living in an early stage of “The Handmaid’s Tale”

Ever feel like we are living in the first chapter of a dystopian novel? In an "emergency" special session, Missouri's Senate is currently considering legislation that would allow employers to fire or not hire women who use birth control or have had abortions. The bill has the support of the state's governor, Eric Greitens, and passed in the House last week. 

Under the bill, SB 5, landlords could also refuse to offer housing to women based on their reproductive health choices. The Federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act prevents discrimination against women who have had an abortion, but makes no mention of birth control. That means that if this bill passes it would be perfectly legal for a boss or landlord to ask a women what forms of birth control they use.

Under His Eye indeed. 

via Newsweek

06.26.17 | 4 hours ago

The Super NES Classic will include an ill-fated 1990s game that never made it to market

Nintendo is releasing another retro console this fall, with one killer hook for classic game aficionados: Among the Super NES Classic's 21 preloaded games is Star Fox 2, which Nintendo canceled toward the end of development more than 20 years ago. (The company reportedly wanted to avoid unfavorable 3D graphics comparisons between the Super Nintendo and newer consoles like the Sony PlayStation and Sega Saturn, and eventually released a slicker Star Fox on the Nintendo 64.)

Nintendo plans to launch the Super NES Classic on September 29 for $80, though it's unclear if the company will produce enough of them this time around. With last year's NES Classic, Nintendo didn't seem to anticipate the demand for video game nostalgia, and ended production after an all-too limited run. It'd be a shame if the only way to play Star Fox 2 faced a similar fate.

06.26.17 | 4 hours ago

Waymo just tapped Avis to help it manage future self-driving car fleets

Earlier this year Waymo invited people in Phoenix to join its early rider program—its first public self-driving trial. There will be 600 Chrysler Pacifica minivans involved in this test fleet. Now we know who will manage them. Waymo is teaming up with rental car agency Avis, which will support and maintain the cars during the pilot, according to Reuters. The pilot and partnership with Avis is an important next step in Waymo's self-driving efforts, one that will test its ability to create self-driving technology but run related services. 

06.26.17 | 12:25 pm

Here are some MIT drones that can fly and drive to get you through your Monday

Researchers at MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab have created a new prototype drone that can both fly and drive, and will undoubtedly rule the earth—or at least make sure your copy of Rise of the Robots is delivered from Amazon in a timely fashion.

The engineers were inspired by birds and bugs that can both walk and fly, TechCrunch reports. The eight quadcopter drones can currently only drive for up to 252 meters (275 yards) or fly for 90 meters (98 feet), so they still have a way to go, but it's a pretty cool and/or frightening feature depending on how you feel about these things. The new drones are designed to assess both air and car traffic and decide whether it is faster to drive or fly, which could be a hint of how flying cars could work in the future. Frankly, though, they should have just modified duck boats, so they could drive and sail and fly.

06.26.17 | 12:15 pm

Study: More boomers, senior citizens, and even Republicans are coming around to gay marriage

A new study from the Pew Research Center shows that support for same-sex marriage is at its highest point in over 20 years. While the traditional gift is cotton, the study is an apt way to mark the second anniversary of the Supreme Court's 2015 landmark decision Obergefell v. Hodges, which legalized same sex marriage.

The study shows that by a margin of nearly two-to-one (62% to 32%), more Americans now say they favor allowing gays and lesbians to marry than say they are opposed to it. Young people are the most supportive (cue up Whitney Houston singing, "I believe the children are the future…") with 76% of millennials and 65% of Gen Xers saying they support same-sex marriage. However, baby boomers are slowly getting on board, too, with 56% of them now favoring same-sex marriage, while 39% are opposed. Even senior citizens are realizing same-sex marriage won't trigger an angina attack, with support nearly doubling among members since 2007.

Support for allowing gays and lesbians to marry legally has steadily risen across racial and ethnic groups and even *gasp* Republicans. According to Pew, 47% of Republicans and independents who lean Republican now favor same-sex marriage, with 48% opposing it. (Yep, based on this study, a majority of Republicans no longer oppose same sex marriage.) As recently as 2013, Republicans opposed gay marriage by nearly two-to-one (61% to 33%). Guess two years after the fact, they realized that letting people marry whomever they want regardless of gender didn't trigger the apocalypse as written in the book of Revelations and/or The Hunger Games.

[Photo: Unsplash user Peter Hershey]

06.26.17 | 12:00 pm

Because flying is stressful enough, the TSA will not make you remove books from your carry-on—updated

Update: A spokesman for the TSA has shot down the rumor that the agency would require passengers to remove books, saying a private airport security company was experimenting with the procedure.

"This is the rumor that doesn't want to die … At no time has the removal of books been TSA policy, nor are we considering making it policy. Now there are times when a TSO may ask a passenger declutter their carry-on bag in order to make it easier to screen. We do this because our xray machines may have trouble screening overstuffed bags."

The TSA is reportedly testing new safety procedures that could require airline passengers to remove books from their carry-on bags when going through security lines, as The Hill reported. The TSA has been testing this program since at least early May, although the agency told the Wall Street Journal that tests in Kansas City "didn't go well" and were halted after a few days. 

We reached out to the TSA for comment about implementation of this new rule. As frequently flying bookworms may be aware, the TSA has already been plucking people out of line to search through their carry-on bags for books, because apparently books can look like plastic explosives when they are sent through the X-ray machine. (That's what the TSA agent told me last time I was pulled out of line for packing hardcovers in my carry-on.) 

However, the ACLU is sounding the alarm on the grounds that this could be a way for TSA agents to unconstitutionally scrutinize reading material, citing a case they took on of a man handcuffed and detained for hours for merely carrying a set of Arabic-language flash cards and a book critical of U.S. foreign policy. "[B]ooks raise very special privacy issues," the ACLU's senior policy analyst Jay Stanley wrote in a recent blog post. "There is a long history of special legal protection for the privacy of one's reading habits in the United States, not only through numerous Supreme Court and other court decisions, but also through state laws that criminalize the violation of public library reading privacy or require a warrant to obtain book sales, rental, or lending records." While the ACLU is clearly on it, for now, maybe don't pack Conquered by Clippy on your next flight.

[Photo: Skyler Smith]

06.26.17 | 11:23 am

Just in time for the Fourth of July, Trump’s travel ban gets a second chance

The Supreme Court has decided that it will look into whether Donald Trump's proposed travel rules—which would bar people from six predominately Muslim countries from traveling to the U.S.—is constitutional. The court, however, won't hear the case until this fall and has decided that parts of the ban can go into effect until then. 

The ruling goes against two other federal court judges who ruled that it should be put on hold until its constitutionality is decided. SCOTUS said the ban can't be enforced for people who have relatives in the United States, reports NBC News, but it can be enforced for refugees and those with no ties. 


[Photo: Robert Couse-Baker via Wikimedia Commons

06.26.17 | 10:03 am

SCOTUS will weigh in on that baker who refused to make a cake for a gay wedding

The Supreme Court on Monday said it will weigh in on whether a Denver baker unlawfully discriminated against a gay couple by refusing to bake them a wedding cake. Back in 2012, David Mullins and Charlie Craig visited Jack Phillips's Masterpiece Cakeshop in Denver to order a cake for their upcoming wedding reception, the AP reports. The couple planned to marry in Massachusetts, where same-sex marriage was legal at the time, and then hold a reception in Colorado. Phillips refused to take their order, on the grounds that his religious beliefs barred him from baking a cake for a same-sex marriage

Mullins and Craig filed a complaint, and in 2014, the Colorado Civil Rights Commission determined that Phillips's action violated state law. That ruling was upheld in Colorado state courts, on the grounds that Phillips violated Colorado's public accommodations law, which prohibits refusing service to customers based on factors such as race, sex, marital status, or sexual orientation. As similar cases pop up around the country, the Supreme Court has decided to enter the fray. While equal rights activists say the landmark 2015 decision in Obergefell v. Hodges should have settled the issue, the recent addition of Neil Gorsuch to the court may change things.

[Photo: Unsplash user Brooke Lark]

06.26.17 | 9:14 am

Watch J.K. Rowling’s 20th-anniversary Harry Potter tweet spread around the world

You already know this, but everyone's favorite boy wizard isn't a boy anymore. Harry Potter's 20th anniversary is today, and to mark the occasion, J.K. Rowling, an author who never has to work again in her life, tweeted her thanks to Potter fans around the world—and they listened. Social analytics platform Talkwalker tweeted back with an animated graphic showing how Rowling's tweet spread throughout the world over the first few hours. Check it out below. It's, um, spellbinding.

06.26.17 | 9:11 am

Report: The owner of the National Enquirer is eyeing Time Inc.

[Photo: Nick Hillier]

The New Yorker just came out with its profile of David Pecker, the man at the helm of the National Enquirer's parent company, American Media Inc. There's a lot to digest from the very long read, but one thing has stuck out to many: The media mogul is reportedly considering buying Time Inc.

The New Yorker's Jeffrey Toobin writes:

Pecker is now considering expanding his business: he may bid to take over the financially strapped magazines of Time, Inc., which include Time, People, and Fortune. Based on his stewardship of his own publications, Pecker would almost certainly direct those magazines, and the journalists who work for them, to advance the interests of the President and to damage those of his opponents.

Politico reported Pecker's interest in the media company a few months back. Of course, as this is the media business, nothing is certain. Still, we may be seeing a more Trump-friendly magazine rack soon.

Meanwhile, Time Inc. is trying to stay afloat whether or not Pecker buys it: Today it announced a licensing deal with Barclays that would index the Fortune 500. This comes just a few weeks after Time Inc. announced a series of sweeping layoffs