Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is another one of Nintendo’s enhanced Wii U ports, and it still holds up. Its spectacular tracks, colorful karts, and the myriad of dirty tricks make it a marquee multiplayer experience on Nintendo’s hybrid console. A new smart steering option opens the game up to younger kids, too, giving them a way to play along without getting completely trounced. Whether drifting, hovering, or gliding around the scenic courses, you’re almost guaranteed to grin while playing it. [For 1-8 players]
As states and cities lift shelter-in-place restrictions, there’s still so much we don’t know about the coronavirus and how it spreads. Which has left a lot of people wondering: How safe is it, really, to start socializing again? Is wearing a mask a part of our lives for the foreseeable future—and is it possible to persuade stubborn family members to wear one, too? Are short flights safer than long flights? And, are single people destined to remain dateless in the time of coronavirus?
This week on Gadget Lab, WIRED science writers Megan Molteni and Adam Rogers come on the show to try to answer some of these pressing questions. The short answer, of course, is that there are no easy answers; each decision we make is now a complicated labyrinth of potential exposure, personal circumstances, risk tolerance, and macro concerns about public health. We’re here to help guide you through this crisis.
Read all of WIRED’s coronavirus coverage here.
Megan Molteni is on Twitter @MeganMolteni. Adam Rogers is @jetjocko. Michael Calore is @snackfight. Lauren is @LaurenGoode. Bling the main hotline at @GadgetLab. The show is produced by Boone Ashworth (@booneashworth). Our consulting executive producer is Alex Kapelman (@alexkapelman). Our theme music is by Solar Keys.
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Matt Jancer is a staff writer for WIRED who focuses on reviewing outdoor gear. Previously, he spent a decade as a freelance writer covering automobiles, motorcycles, and lifestyle stories for magazines. Some of his longest gigs were at Car and Driver, Outside, Esquire, Playboy, and Popular Mechanics.
Are machine-learning algorithms biased, wrong, and racist? Let citizens decide.
Essentially rule-based structures for making decisions, machine-learning algorithms play an increasingly large role in our lives. They suggest what we should read and watch, whom we should date, and whether or not we are detained while awaiting trial. Their promise is huge–they can better detect cancers. But they can also discriminate based on the color of our skin or the zip code we live in.
Despite their ubiquity in society, no real structure exists to regulate algorithms’ use. We rely on journalists or civil society organizations to serendipitously report when things have gone wrong. In the meantime, the use of algorithms spreads to every corner of our lives and many agencies of our government. In the post-Covid-19 world, the problem is bound to reach colossal proportions.
A new report by OpenAI suggests we should create external auditing bodies to evaluate the societal impact of algorithm-based decisions. But the report does not specify what such bodies should look like.
We don’t know how to regulate algorithms, because their application to societal problems involves a fundamental incongruity. Algorithms follow logical rules in order to optimize for a given outcome. Public policy is all a matter of trade-offs: optimizing for some groups in society necessarily makes others worse off.
Resolving social trade-offs requires that many different voices be heard. This may sound radical, but it is in fact the original lesson of democracy: Citizens should have a say. We don’t know how to regulate algorithms, because we have become shockingly bad at citizen governance.
Is citizen governance feasible today? Sure, it is. We know from social scientists that a diverse group of people can make very good decisions. We also know from a number of recent experiments that citizens can be called upon to make decisions on very tough policy issues, including climate change, and even to shape constitutions. Finally, we can draw from the past for inspiration on how to actually build citizen-run institutions.
The ancient Athenians—the citizens of the world’s first large-scale experiment in democracy—built an entire society on the principle of citizen governance. One institution stands out for our purposes: the Council of Five Hundred, a deliberative body in charge of all decisionmaking, from war to state finance to entertainment. Every year, 50 citizens from each of the 10 tribes were selected by lot to serve. Selection occurred among those that had not served the year before and had not already served twice.
These simple organizational rules facilitated broad participation, knowledge aggregation, and citizen learning. First, because the term was limited and could not be iterated more than twice, over time a broad section of the population—rich and poor, educated and not—participated in decisionmaking. Second, because the council represented the whole population (each tribe integrated three different geographic constituencies), it could draw upon the diverse knowledge of its members. Third, at the end of their mandate, councillors returned home with a body of knowledge about the affairs of their city that they could share with their families, friends, and coworkers, some of whom already served and some who soon would. Certainly, the Athenians did not follow through on their commitment to inclusion. As a result, many people’s voices went unheard, including those of women, foreigners, and slaves. But we don’t need to follow the Athenian example on this front.
A citizen council for algorithms modeled on the Athenian example would represent the entire American citizen population. We already do this with juries (although it is possible that, when decisions affect a specific constituency, a better fit with the actual polity might be required). Citizens’ deliberations would be informed by agency self-assessments and algorithmic impact statements for decision systems used by government agencies, and internal auditing reports for industry, as well as reports from investigative journalists and civil society activists, whenever available. Ideally, the council would act as an authoritative body or as an advisory board to an existing regulatory agency. It could evaluate, as OpenAI recommends, a variety of issues including the level of privacy protection, the extent to (and methods by) which the systems were tested for safety, security, or ethical concerns, and the sources of data, labor, and other resources used.
Cybercriminals, like viruses, adapt to their environment. Since the coronavirus pandemic began, cybersecurity complaints to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center have quadrupled.
Not only are governments and businesses more exposed, but individuals—stressed from remote work, unemployment, and/or homeschooling—are more susceptible to scams on everything from government assistance checks to online shopping. I’ve been deluged with emails purportedly from Netflix asking me to update my billing information; the sender clearly thinks cabin fever-infected recipients will be so desperate not to lose access to streaming they’ll click without a second thought.
Sylvia Acevedo is the CEO of Girl Scouts USA and a longtime advocate for underserved communities and girls’ and women’s causes. Acevedo started her career as a rocket scientist at the Jet Propulsion Labs, where she worked on the Voyager mission’s flyby of Jupiter and its moons and the Solar Polar/Probe missions. She is the author of Path to the Stars: My Journey from Girl Scout to Rocket Scientist.
The surge is no accident: Bad actors go where access is easy or where rewards outweigh risks, and the pandemic is ripe for exploitation. But cybercrime was with us long before and it will be with us long after we finally throw away our masks. This is particularly true of cybercrime targeting women and children.
This brings us back to access. Let’s look at the internet of things, for instance. It was developed largely without the input of women in leadership positions. Among the major US tech firms, none have more than 32 percent of women in leadership roles: Amazon 27 percent, Facebook 32 percent, Apple 29 percent, Google 26 percent, and Microsoft 19 percent.
The result is that the IoT lacks components of security and safety that are often top of mind for women but maybe not as salient for men. Much of the tech being developed doesn’t take women’s and children’s needs and wants into account, including vital safety and privacy concerns that are critical.
For example, social media has enabled predators to target children and share abusive images. In 2018, tech companies found more than 45 million online photos and videos of children being sexually abused, double the number from 2017. Ride-sharing services leave women vulnerable to drivers who can access their personal information through the app. Period-tracking apps share intimate data with third parties. Smart home technology has been used by domestic abusers against former partners and by predators against children.
We’ve been down a similar road before. In 2001, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration required all new cars to include safety latches inside the vehicle’s trunk. The regulation only came after multiple children died when they became trapped and dozens of women were murdered by being intentionally locked in the trunks of cars.
Now, women and children are losing their lives because there is no safety latch on the internet, and tech companies are scrambling to catch up.
On top of this urgent need to make safety and security a top priority, there is a massive shortage of tech experts. In 2018, the National Association of Manufacturing and Deloitte reported that of the 3.5 million STEM jobs the US will have to fill by 2025, 2 million will go unfilled due to a lack of qualified workers. We can’t adequately address the blind spots in cybersecurity without also targeting the STEM shortage and, by extension, the gender gap in tech.
Women comprise half of all STEM workers in the United States overall, but this seemingly equal number hides an important disparity. Namely, the share of women working in STEM occupations varies greatly across fields and education levels. Women account for 75 percent of workers in health-related jobs, for example, but a mere 14 percent in engineering.
One solution to both the shortage of skilled workers and the need to consider the unique needs of women and children when developing the next generation of tech is to bring more women into cybersecurity leadership positions. In order to do that, we must start educating girls at a young age to be the cybersecurity leaders of tomorrow. At Girl Scouts, we have the vision and scale to match the challenge.
In 2017 we pledged to add 2.5 million girls to the STEM workforce by 2025. The following year, we collaborated with Palo Alto Networks to introduce cybersecurity badges to girls in grades K–12, and in 2019 we collaborated with Raytheon Technologies to host the first Cyber Challenge for middle and high school girls—a program that continues today. To date, more than 150,000 cybersecurity badges and over 1 million STEM badges have been earned by girls across the country.
Regret borne from reflection and anxiety from future projection can be crippling, even when both are necessary or ultimately liberating. These notions are especially true for social upheavals, where engaging the past involves questions more taxing than the ones Marie Kondo gave to us for spring cleaning: Do these relics make us feel good? When these relics are garments of clothing, we can say no, and away they go. With society, the relics that weigh us down can feel too complex to grasp or, more often, too inconvenient for us to want to engage with.
Nearly halfway through 2020, the world remains engulfed by the most explosive pandemic in over a century. Simultaneously, and not unrelatedly, neofascist populism manifests in unfamiliar settings, threatening democracy. In the United States, the last few months have delivered several visible test cases—involving deaths of African Americans at the hand of law enforcement—that have served as public referenda on the value of black lives, again. Covid-19 and uprisings have left our status quo in peril, and a public looking for answers.
C. Brandon Ogbunu (@big_data_kane) is an assistant professor at Brown University who specializes in computational biology and genetics.
But the overlap of the pandemic and the protests against police violence is of a certain type: not quite familial, but instead, more like mirror images. Covid-19 and the uprisings are a kind of twin, where the features are identical but opposite. This manifests in their respective relationships with the past and future.
In the case of Covid-19, much of our obsession was, and remains, with future projection. This is the essence of the debate over the relevance of predictive models of disease, where citizen-scientists (of varied background and expertise) have sparred on social media, and less often in the scientific literature. The points of contention often involve the veracity and ethics of predictions. Some of the debates are justified: Erroneous calculations can drive bad policies and cost thousands of lives. Elaine Nsoesie, a computational epidemiologist and assistant professor at the Boston University School of Public Health, says, “We shouldn’t be too confident about our predictions of what will happen in the future. We should acknowledge uncertainty especially in the models that we develop.” Unfortunately, the politicization of Covid-19 science has made productive debates about model projections untenable, as conflicts of interest now perniciously manifest in which ideas are entertained, almost independent of the science underlying them.
Our obsession with the Covid-19-shaped future is about far more than what the “curve” will look like in six months. The pandemic has also forced us to reconsider how we communicate, work, and learn. For example, higher education must now rethink how to maintain research activities, deliver high-quality instruction, and provide the informal social experience that college has historically provided. And there are new, important conversations about labor that have arisen.
Science fiction author Rick Wilber is best known for writing about baseball, including a series of alternate history stories about real-life catcher-turned-spy Moe Berg. Wilber’s preoccupation with the game is understandable given his upbringing.
“My father was a major league baseball player,” Wilber says in Episode 412 of the Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy podcast. “Then he was a minor league manager—AAA manager—for many years. So I grew up in dugouts and clubhouses of major league teams through the 1950s into the ’60s.”
Baseball and fantasy are a natural fit, and many writers have combined the two, including Michael Bishop (Brittle Innings), Michael Chabon (Summerland), and W.P. Kinsella, whose 1982 novel Shoeless Joe was adapted into the movie Field of Dreams. But these days Wilber is probably the most prolific author of fantasy baseball stories.
“Maybe I’m wrong, but to the best of my knowledge, I’ve published more science fiction and fantasy baseball short fiction than anybody else,” he says.
Fantasy and science fiction readers aren’t known for being the biggest sports fans, so Wilber’s baseball stories aren’t always beloved by his intended audience. “I don’t know how many people in the science fiction community, among readers, really enjoy baseball stories,” he says. “I’ve had reviewers start their review by saying ‘I loathe baseball,’ so you know the review is sort of going south after that.”
But Wilber, undeterred, intends to keep on writing fantasy baseball stories for many years to come.
“In 1999 I had a collection of my baseball stories called Where Garagiola Waits,” he says. “I think maybe it’s time to do another collection of the baseball stories.”
Listen to the complete interview with Rick Wilber in Episode 412 of Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy (above). And check out some highlights from the discussion below.
Rick Wilber on his story “War Bride”:
“Soldiers fall in love—or they fall in lust—and then they have to leave people behind, and I thought, ‘That’s kind of a tragic story.’ And then I began to think, ‘What if that happened to Earth?’ And I just made it sort of a more global—or even galactic—story. I wanted to turn things on their ear, in terms of gender issues, so I had it be a guy, and a basketball player, and he’s successful, but he’s also the lover of an alien. … He’s had a good life with this alien, but now a much more aggressive alien race is coming, and wants to boot out the nice guys and take over, and they’re going to wipe out Earth while doing that. So the nice aliens are leaving, and a few very lucky people get to go with them. If you think of the United States in the Vietnam War, you’ll see all sorts of parallels there as well.”
Rick Wilber on Moe Berg:
“[My story] ‘Something Real’ features Moe Berg, a very famous baseball catcher in the 1930s and 1940s, who became a spy for the OSS—the American secret service—during the war. He was a brilliant guy who spoke at least seven, and maybe 12, languages, most of them European languages, so he made for a very good spy, and he had a very successful career as a spy. The story that I tell an alternate history version of in this collection is based on a real story. Moe Berg was sent to neutral Switzerland in 1944 to listen to a speech by the head of the German A-bomb program, Werner Heisenberg, and Moe was there with a gun, and if he thought Heisenberg hinted that the Germans were close to building an atomic bomb, Moe’s job was to assassinate him.”
Rick Wilber on the Dell Award:
“The first time I met [Michael Bishop] was at the World Fantasy Convention in Pine Mountain, Georgia in 1992. Pine Mountain is where Michael Bishop lives, so at that conference I actually played one-on-one with Michael Bishop on his outdoor court—we played basketball together. And Sheila Williams and I, over breakfast one day—my wife was there as well—we were just talking about how we should try to start something that got young people—college people—interested in writing science fiction and fantasy. And we sort of conjured up this award, and by 1994 we were starting the award, and many, many terrific writers and editors have gotten a leg-up on their careers, we think, by being finalists or winning the Dell Award.”
Rick Wilber on college:
“I had a creative writing teacher where all I wanted to write was science fiction and all he wanted to ban was science fiction, so we did not get along. As the years went by, I did meet a couple of people on the English faculty—they did not teach creative writing, unfortunately—who liked fantasy, mainly because of Tolkien, and they allowed me to get my master’s from the English department at Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville. Dickie Spurgeon and Roberta Bosse, I cite their names all the time, because they made it OK. They said to the rest of the faculty it was OK. And I did a master’s thesis on Robert Heinlein, which was the first science fiction master’s thesis. It was terrifying, I’ve got to tell you, it was so much pressure.”
The Last of Us Part II Gets Both a New Release Date and a Major Leak
Busy week for those keeping up with news out of Naughty Dog, developer of The Last of Us Part II. First off, the game has a new release date: June 19. (That’s later than the original release date of May 29, but probably a relief for fans, considering it appeared to be delayed indefinitely just a few weeks ago.) News of the on-sale day came hand-in-hand with word of a major leak of a development build of the game, setting off a series of rumors and debates over who did the leak, why, and whether or not it might have been justified. The initial rumor was that a disgruntled employee had leaked the game to protest poor labor conditions, though Sony has gone on the record as of Friday to say that the leaker in question, according to its investigation, wasn’t affiliated with Naughty Dog or Sony Interactive Entertainment.
The leak itself, featuring major spoilers about the game’s narrative, surfaced last weekend, with footage from a late-in-development build of the game. It included gameplay as well as a number of important cutscenes. So if you’re not interested in getting spoiled for this particular title, you might want to tread carefully.
The Next Assassin’s Creed Will Meet Again in Valhalla
It’s not super clear what connects the games in the Assassin’s Creed franchise at this point, what with the broader narrative and aesthetic connections becoming thinner and thinner as time goes on. They all have, uh, murder? Some jumping? Anyway, the new one has vikings! As announced this week, the next game in the series is Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, set in the ninth century and starring everyone’s favorite raidy boys and girls of the northern hemisphere. In this one, like the last one, you can play as a dude or a lady, and this time you’re a member of a Viking clan who, probably, decides to kill a variety of villains based on a personal sense of justice that occasionally overlaps with a broad science fiction-al metaplot that, at this point, we could not even begin to explain to you. It looks fun. It’s coming at the end of the year.
Elon Musk Brings Deus Ex Into His Anti-Stay-at-Home Thing
So, here’s the deal: Elon Musk, that dude who has a car company and is having a baby with Grimes, recently took to Twitter to heavily protest America’s stay-at-home orders, tweeting “FREE AMERICA NOW” and applauding the decision of Texas’ governor to allow a limited reopening of the state starting today. In the process of doing so, he also changed his Twitter icon to that of JC Denton, the protagonist of the 2000 videogame Deus Ex. Denton, a cyborg murder machine genius, is caught up in a plot that sees him opposing a massively rich corporate icon and a corrupt government supporting him in creating a stratified, information-controlled totalitarian world run by corporations.
To prevent people from losing their homes while shelter-in-place orders remain, many cities and states have issued eviction moratoria, including New York state. “We were initially encouraged that states and localities were taking action to try and keep people housed amid the pandemic,” Alieza Durana, a strategist at Princeton’s Eviction Lab, says. But the rickety nature of these Band-Aid measures soon became apparent.
“There are some pretty substantial gaps in terms of who is covered, where they’re covered, under what conditions,” Durana says. For example, while losing a job can make people eligible for rental assistance programs, these patchwork relief options can be hard to access and insufficient at covering costs. “The backlog is enormous in some states.”
Moreover, these measures are a small comfort for the newly unemployed, who often do not know how they are going to pay a single month’s rent, let alone catch up on missed payments. “The idea that families would somehow have saved enough to anticipate a global pandemic that no one knew was coming is, frankly, ridiculous,” Durana says.
And yet: management at both Jeffers’ and Thorntons’ buildings have already sent letters to tenants explaining that they are expected to pay up. Jeffers worries about what will happen when the moratorium lifts on June 20, and landlords demand back pay. “Court is going to be filled,” she says.
While the concept of a strike is often framed as radical, the action is essentially pragmatic, especially for tenants who feel they have no other recourse. A rent strike is a bid to gain leverage over landlords through collective bargaining. Sometimes tenants strike to push for building repairs or to discourage planned rent increases. In this case, the ultimate goal is to shape government policy. If a critical mass of tenants refuse to pay, advocates think it will push landlords, particularly powerful real estate companies, to use their lobbying weight to advocate for housing bailouts. It’s a tactic to shift the financial burden away from individuals and towards institutions. It’s a risky one—people who participate in the strike could be evicted after the moratorium lifts—but the agitators are hoping the united front and moral imperative are persuasive.
Rent strikes are already happening at a commercial level, although they are not always being framed as such. The Cheesecake Factory, for example, sent a letter to the landlords for its franchise locations explaining that it was not paying its rent because of the “extraordinary events” of the pandemic. This is not necessarily because The Cheesecake Factory’s leadership has embraced a leftist ideology; it is more probably because not paying rent is simply the most rational option when there’s no money in the bank. (The Cheesecake Factory declined to comment.)
Several tenants WIRED interviewed described how they’d first attempted to negotiate for lowered rents before choosing to strike. At Thornton’s building, which is owned by the management firm Guardian Realty, the tenants say they originally asked their management for a temporary 50 percent rent reduction during the shelter-in-place order. “We were completely shut down,” Thornton says. Instead, management informed tenants that they were expected to continue full payments on time. With so many tenants unable to do so, around 20 of the 47 units in the building decided to participate in a formal rent strike.
In Crown Heights, Brooklyn, writer and editor Maxwell Paparella and his neighbors also attempted to negotiate a rent discount after realizing a substantial portion of the people in their 36-unit mid-rise building would struggle to make payments this spring. “That proposal was rejected,” Paparella says. Two-thirds of the units have decided to participate in a strike action, and delivered a notice to management in April. Many tenants simply do not have the funds to pay. Others are withholding rent in solidarity. The building’s landlord, Isaac Schwartz, controls a hefty real estate portfolio. “We believe he can shoulder at least some of the burden of this crisis,” Paparella says. (Schwartz and Guardian Reality did not respond to messages seeking comment.)
Graduate students at Columbia University are planning to strike for rent relief from the prestigious institution following similar logic—the school has a $10.9 billion endowment, and is better equipped to deal with any potential financial fallout from withheld rent than cash-strapped academics. “They have a lot more money on hand than a traditional landlord,” law student Gus Leinbach says. “They’re in an easier situation to cancel rent for three months for us.”
Perhaps unsurprisingly, rent strikes are not popular among landlords. “When you’re talking about rent strikes, you’re talking about actually hurting your fellow tenants as much, if not more than landlords themselves,” says Jay Martin, the executive director of the Community Housing Improvement Program, an advocacy group representing 4,000 landlords. Without bailouts for landlords as well as tenants, Martin envisions a New York with banks as the largest landlords, mercilessly seizing buildings across boroughs and tossing out delinquent renters and owners alike.
Faced with the life-altering circumstances of Covid-19, people are switching things up. That can mean a lot of terrible things, like losing a job or having a loved one get sick. For those fortunate enough to still be employed (and healthy), you may be learning to work from home baking lots of bread, or getting an overwhelming urge to change your hair color.
The desire to change your hair may be about taking back some control, says Suzanne Degges-White, a professor and chair of the Department of Counseling, Adult and Higher Education at Northern Illinois University. “There’s so little right now that any of us can control, but our appearance is one thing that’s still within our power.”
Whatever your reason, I’m here to help. I’ve been dyeing my hair wild colors at home for more than a decade, and this guide is my best advice on how to recolor your hair in temporary and more permanent ways.
First, Consider Temporary Options
Feeling impulsive, but not professional? Consider a temporary color change. These methods are cheaper and less invasive than attempting to dye your whole head. You’ll reap the benefits of fun hair color without the scalp sensitivity or regret.
Consider Extensions: You don’t have to get crazy with your own hair. You can add a streak of color to your locks with dyed extensions. (These have great reviews.) It can be tricky to match them to your natural hair texture, but if you’re willing to do some styling or flat-ironing, they will work fine.
Try a Wig: Amazon and other stores sell passable wigs, ranging from curly bobs to extra-long ombré options. For something more durable, try Insert Name Hair. The company offers clip-in ponytails, bright wigs, full-head extension sets, clip-in bangs, candy-colored space buns, and loose strands for feed-in braids. The hairpieces are pretty foolproof. I like everything I’ve tried from INH.
Try Temporary Hair Dye: These come in the form of sprays and styling products. They’re like makeup for your hair, so you can add color and wash it away in the shower. A temporary dye job won’t feel or look as sleek as one from the salon, but it’ll do job well enough. I recommend a few practice rounds to get used to the products. They’re typically better suited for small sections (like your roots, bangs, or ends) rather than full-head coverage. If you have long, curly, or dry hair, you might encounter some textural road bumps, particularly with products like waxes. Manic Panic Amplified Color Spray ($13) is easy to use, but if your hair is long, you might need a couple of canisters. Good Dye Young Poser Paste ($18) is a waxy styling pomade that’s incredibly pigmented and has a pleasant citrus smell. Use it in small sections of your hair for a bright pop of color.
Ready to Dye? Keep These Tips in Mind