In the tech world, a lot happens in a week. So much news goes on, in fact, that it’s almost impossible for mere mortals with real lives to keep track of everything. That’s why we’ve compiled a quick and dirty list of the top 10 tech stories from this week. Everything from Facebook’s data on coming out on social media to Apple’s surprising patent loss — it’s all here.
As a platform of purported self expression, Facebook has taken considerable heat from certain communities about how they can or cannot represent themselves online. But despite recent controversy, the social media giant pointed out in a blog post that a record number of Americans have “come out” on Facebook, and it emphasized the data as evidence of a national shift towards the acceptance of different sexual orientations. “Over the past year, approximately 800,000 Americans updated their profile to express a same-gender attraction or custom gender,” wrote researchers Bogdon State and Nils Wernerfelt. “Not only has the total number of Americans who have come out on Facebook risen dramatically, but so has the number coming out each day.” The recent post, published in honor of National Coming Out Day (Oct. 11) and #SpiritDay (Oct. 15), highlights three major trends that academics have noted over the last year.
The U.S. government is not currently seeking legislation demanding access to users’ encrypted data, according to a new report by Reuters. However, White House officials remain in talks with the likes of Google, Apple, and Facebook to prevent “malicious actors” from avoiding detection and threatening national security through the use of closed networks. “We are actively engaged with private companies to ensure they understand the public safety and national security risks that result from malicious actors’ use of their encrypted products and services,” White House spokesman Mark Stroh told Reuters. “However, the administration is not seeking legislation at this time.”
Reverse engineering has rarely looked as cool as it does now, with the achievement by scientists of the partial reconstruction of a rat brain out of nothing more than a computer. That’s right — no organic matter was harmed in the making of this brain (except for maybe the billions of human brain cells expended on this incredible project). After a decade of work, the Blue Brain Project of the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne claims, in a paper published in Cell, that it has created 31,000 virtual neurons comprised of 207 individual neuron subtypes. While the entire rat brain is estimated to have some 21 million neurons, even this tiny portion of the organ has scientists agog with the new realm of possibilities this latest discovery unlocks.
While some tech-related firms are finding ways to resolve their patent-related disputes out of court rather than entering into long, drawn-out legal battles, some evidently feel they have a strong enough case to see it through to the end. Take, for example, the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation (WARF), which protects the University of Wisconsin’s intellectual rights and patents. It just won a case against the mighty Apple – a company with plenty of experience when it comes to patent-related court action – for infringement of one of its processor patents. The tech giant may have to cough up a whopping $862 million in damages after a Madison, Wisconsin jury decided the company’s A7, A8, and A8X processors – found in recent versions of the iPhone, as well as several iPad models – violate a patent for improving chip efficiency, Reuters reported Tuesday.
Those of a nervous disposition will be best off skipping Airbnb’s latest offer. However, if you’re a fearless type who can get excited about the idea of spending a night underground with six million dead people, then read on. The room-rental startup this week posted details of a special Halloween contest where the prize is an overnight stay in Paris’s famous catacombs, dubbed “the world’s largest grave.” Open to couples and friends, the contest’s two winners will be given a “real bed” for the night and, well, very little else. “On Halloween night … satisfy your thirst for adventure in the sprawling network of skulls and bones,” the company, doing its best to sell the contest, says on its website.
Next page: 5 more tech stories you might have missed this week
John McClane will return for another installment of the Die Hard franchise, but his sixth adventure could take a very different form. A new report indicates that 20th Century Fox is developing a Die Hard movie that will serve as both a sequel and a prequel tale for Bruce Willis’ hard-luck hero, with the main story set in McClane’s early years with the New York Police Department and featuring a younger actor in the starring role. According to Deadline, Bruce Willis will likely appear in the film as McClane, but his role will only serve to set up the prequel story, set in 1979. Live Free or Die Hard director Len Wiseman is expected to direct the film, and is reportedly working closely with producer Lorenzo Di Bonaventura to develop the project.
When it comes to nationally shared compulsive behavior, checking our smartphones may rise to the top of the list. Now that our phones have effectively become an extension of ourselves, pressing the home button on your smartphone probably feels about as natural as taking a breath, and being separated from our devices can be tantamount to losing a limb (or something). As it turns out, so deep-seated is our dependency on our smart phones that a recent study has shown that we actually perform better on cognitive tests when our phones are nearby (even if we’re not using them) compared to when they’re out of sight or far away. Talk about a co-dependent relationship.
YouTube: It’s not just for poor people and out-of-work actors anymore. The top ten list of highest earning YouTube channels (which includes 13 people in all) combined for an astounding $54 million dollars last year, according to Forbes’ first ever tally of the group. The list includes earnings before management fees and taxes, but even so, that’s a whole lotta cheddar. It turns out it doesn’t take anything too serious to get rich on the Internet, but it does take being young and/or personable. List-topper Felix Kjellberg (aka PewDiePie), is a 25-year-old Swede who earned an estimated $12 million last year as the most watched video gamer in the world, with about 40 million viewers subscribing to his hilarious (aka annoying?) play-through videos, rife with boisterous comments and Millenial catch-phrases.
Marvel is working to bring two X-Men-based series to TV. A Hellfire series is in development for Fox, and FX has ordered a Legion pilot, reports Variety. X-Men film director Bryan Singer is attached to both projects as an executive producer. Hellfire will be set in the 1960s and will center on a special agent along with a secret society known as The Hellfire Club, which has come into conflict with the X-Men of the comic books. Meanwhile, Legion focuses on David Haller, a man who’s thought to be battling mental illness but whose visions may actually be real. Haller also appears in the X-Men series, as an antihero.
Tesla has been beta testing its “Autopilot” semi-autonomous driving systems on accommodating Model S owners for months, and last night the EV automaker began rolling out its technology to all Model S owners, along with other software improvements. Well, we shouldn’t say all Model S owners, because Tesla’s Autopilot only works on vehicles equipped with radar and camera systems that have been applied since 2014. Still, over the next week, tens of thousands of current Model S customers (and the handful of new Tesla Model X owners) will begin enjoying Tesla’s suite of self-driving features, and they don’t have to lift a finger to do so (well, unless they want to take their hands off the wheel to experiment).