“W T O E
E H F X
ARE BUILDING E INTERNET PRESENCE AND P E R I E N C E.”
—R O N Y A B O V I T Z , FOUNDER AND CEO OF M A G I C L E A P
leap of faith
26 WIRED Cities Chuck Palahniuk’s guide to Portland
Release Notes The people behind the issue
10 This Issue From the editor’s desk
12 Comments Reader rants and raves
What’s Inside Frontline Plus ﬂea and tick treatment
30 Real or Fake?
Fetish Leica’s X-U takes beautiful pictures on land and under the sea
Spot the bogus gene-editing projects
32 Don’t Text and Drive We asked experts to help us stop
34 Mr. Know-It-All
44 Head-to-Head: 4K Camera Drones
On whether to inﬂict ve on a hate-tweeter
Yuneec Typhoon H vs. DJI Phantom 4
BY JON MOOALLEM
36 The New Mobile Menace
Argument Political bots on Twitter could wreak havoc on the election BY SAMUEL WOOLLEY
Just walk, already! A breakdown of the ridiculous scooters and hoverboards that are driving us crazy.
AND PHIL HOWARD
Underwater archaeologist Franck Goddio surfaces ancient cities
Gear for capturing immersive still and moving images
48 How to: Mobile Movies
38 First Impressions
46 Top Three: 360 Cams
A robot rates Kevin Spacey’s celebrity impersonations
38 Jargon Watch Keeping up with the latest in the WIRED lexicon
Shoot better videos with your phone by staying focused, going horizontal, and watching your light
50 The Eye of the Beholder The 50-mm lens is valuable precisely because it does so little
ASK A FLOWCHART 114 What Penalty Should Non-Athletes Pay for Their Social Faux Pas? BY PETER RUBIN
22 Infoporn The cost of behaving badly (if you’re a professional athlete)
24 Hot Investing Tips Anyone can invest in startups now— here’s how to do it right
ON THE COVER
In Praise of Newsletters An opt-in audience is helping email blasts stay delightfully weird BY CLIVE THOMPSON
Photographed by Sebastian Kim for W IRE D. Artwork by Eric Heintz. Grooming by Chelsea Sule at Ford Miami. Badge by Alex Roka.
One of the gurus behind WIRED’s Next List, our picks for the tech geniuses shaping the future, is senior editor Marcus Wohlsen, who runs WIRED’s business desk. Wohlsen’s industry acumen can be a drag on his social life, as friends always ask when the tech bubble will burst. “The Internet is not just a segment of the economy,” he tells them, “it’s the infrastructure on which the economy runs.” Get to know the people building the economy on page 55.
Paula Chowles doesn’t just write about video, she shoots and edits it every day for WIRED. The South Africa native joined our staff last year from Al Jazeera and eNews Channel Africa. Chowles has caught many breaking news moments on her phone, most notably a video that went viral of South African politicians breaking out into a physical ﬁght. Read her tips on capturing pro-quality video with your phone on page 48.
Writer Mallory Pickett was trying to brush up on her Swedish language skills when she read about a man allegedly forced to use a payment app to send money to an accused mugger’s account. Intrigued, Pickett uncovered a ﬁght over the future of cash in Sweden (“The Björn Ultimatum,” page 102). The topic is new for Pickett, who was a climatechange chemist before becoming a science journalist. In May, she’ll receive her master’s from UC Berkeley’s School of Journalism. Her Swedish is still improving.
San Francisco’s redesigned Museum of Modern Art is a marvel of ultramodern architecture, but illustrating it presented design challenges (page 88). So we turned to New York artist Bryan Christie, who’s known for his intricate technical illustrations. Christie and colleague Jeong Suh wrestled with 3-D models to distill the museum’s innovations into something elegant and clear. The trick, he says, is a restrained color palette, judicious use of texture, and knowing when to (virtually) knock down a wall or two.
Photographer Sebastian Kim and his son, Blaise.
THE FACES BEHIND THIS ISSUE
portrait subjects have ranged from ballet dancer Misty Copeland and Supreme Court justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg to rapper Kendrick Lamar. But shooting Rony Abovitz, founder of the future-bending startup Magic Leap, for this month’s cover required Kim to ﬁnd a new approach. “Normally I try to capture someone’s personality or expression,” says Kim, whose work has appeared in Time, Vogue, Interview, and GQ. “This was a little different; it needed an element of storytelling and mystery.” To make it look as if Abovitz’s eyes were glowing, Kim and his team created a mask in the precise shape of Abovitz’s glasses, then put the mask in front of a strobe light to project the ﬂash onto his eyes—like a stencil for light. It was a technical process and quite a change from shooting a swimsuit-clad Victoria Beckham for the cover of Vanity Fair. EBASTIAN KIM’S
Kim and Magic Leap founder Rony Abovitz on set in Dania Beach, Florida. ▲
PHOTOGRAPHS: COURTESY OF THE SUBJECT (KIM); PATRICK FINLEY (BEHIND THE SCENES); OSCAR BEIJBOM (PICKETT); JOE PUGLIESE (CHOWLES, WOHLSEN); LARRY BERCOW (CHRISTIE)
EDITORIAL EXECUTIVE EDITOR Joe Brown EDITOR AT LARGE Jason Tanz ARTICLES EDITORS Adam Rogers, Caitlin Roper STORY EDITOR Chuck Squatriglia DEPUTY MANAGING EDITORS Erica Jewell, Joanna Pearlstein SENIOR EDITORS Michael Calore, Emily Dreyfuss (News and Opinion), Jon J. Eilenberg (Digital Editions), Sarah Fallon, John Gravois, Susan Murcko, Peter Rubin, Marcus Wohlsen SENIOR STAFF WRITER Jessi Hempel SENIOR ASSOCIATE EDITORS Robbie Gonzalez, Katie M. Palmer, Angela Watercutter SENIOR WRITERS Andy Greenberg, Cade Metz, David Pierce, Brian Raftery, Kim Zetter ASSOCIATE EDITORS Alex Davies, Jason Kehe STAFF WRITERS Davey Alba, Julia Greenberg, Issie Lapowsky, K. M. McFarland, Tim Moynihan, Margaret Rhodes, Liz Stinson, Nick Stockton, Sarah Zhang COPY CHIEF Brian Dustrud COPY EDITORS Lee Simmons, Pam Smith HOMEPAGE EDITORS Samantha Oltman, Matt Simon EDITORIAL OPERATIONS MANAGER Jay Dayrit SENIOR DIRECTOR, OPERATIONS Maya Seely EDITORIAL BUSINESS MANAGER Katelyn Davies ASSOCIATE RESEARCH EDITOR Victoria Tang ASSISTANT RESEARCH EDITORS Jennifer Chaussee, Blanca Myers, Lexi Pandell
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DA D I C H :
When did you ﬁrst encounter virtual reality?
nese or someone like that. The Chinese are going to embrace VR wholeheartedly.
K E L LY :
I believe it was in 1989 when I walked into Jaron Lanier’s lab—he coined the term. It’s possible it had already reached my ears via the Well, the pioneering online forum we had run since 1984. Did you think that it would actually take 25 years to get to the cusp of widespread adoption?
Kevin Kelly (above) trying early VR prototypes in Jaron Lanier’s lab in 1989.
Fifteen to 20 years.
No. I thought it would take ﬁve years at the most. Turns out the technology was just not cheap enough. Sort of like watching movies over the Internet in 1989—it was easy to imagine but too expensive. People have been speculating about Magic Leap for a while now. Were you surprised by what you saw? No. I was only surprised they didn’t want to talk scientiﬁcally about how their version works. In your story Ernest Cline says that he thinks people are actually going to build the Oasis, the virtual environment in his novel Ready Player One. Do you buy that?
BACK TO THE FUTURE
F THERE’S A HUMAN BEING who knows more about virtual real-
ity than Kevin Kelly, I’d sure like to make their acquaintance. Kevin was WIRED’s founding executive editor in 1992 and has long been our Senior Maverick. But he was experimenting with, reporting on, and writing about experiential platforms long before WIRED existed. Which is why Kevin’s was the ﬁrst number I dialed after visiting the (until now) mysterious startup Magic Leap in suburban South Florida. Who better to write our cover story on Rony Abovitz’s provocative “mixed reality” technology—digital overlays on the real world—than a man who helped deﬁne the way WIRED and everyone else think about new media? 0
RE A D K E V IN K E LLY ’S S TORY O N PAG E
OK, but we keep our noses pointed at smartphones all day right now. What’s going to happen to human interaction when we’re all wearing VR goggles? Mixed reality has fewer inherent dangers than VR, but driving while immersed may become a problem. One thing we cut from the story was Jaron’s observation that we’re all going to put on VR while we ride in our robo-cars. I made the prediction that by 2025 the total bandwidth to our cars will exceed that to our homes. But switching off your VR in a car emergency may be problematic. How do you want to use it? What are you looking forward to?
I think there is a very high probability; I’d be surprised if the movie studios did it. It will be the Chi-
Not games. But I will pay big bucks for really good teleconferencing VR/MR like I saw demonstrated at Magic Leap. For most purposes— work, visiting, play— the avatar was as good as being there.
SCOT T DADICH Editor in Chief @ S DAD ICH
PHOTOGRAPHS COURTESY OF KEVIN KELLY; PORTRAIT BY STANLEY CHOW
In 1989 you thought it’d take ﬁve years for VR to go mainstream. Take another guess—when does something like Magic Leap become as ubiquitous as smartphones?
ABOVE AND BEYOND to have a Mars colony by now? Easier said, etc. In the March issue, wired’s science writers reported on the 13 greatest challenges to exploring the ﬁnal frontier (“Boldly Go”). From propulsion and navigation to the hazards of landing—not to mention the fact that space wants to destroy you, body and mind— the problems seem astronomical. “It’s a huge, dangerous, maybe impossible project,” sci-ﬁ author Ann Leckie wrote in the introduction. But scientists are well on their way to conquering these earthly limitations. Each day brings us one small step closer to the stars. WEREN’T WE SUPPOSED
@WIRED / MAIL@WIRED.COM
Re: “Welcome to the Future. Enjoy Your Stay.”: Inside Japan’s robot hotel “My unbearable sadness is that the robot velociraptor will be neither off duty (except for maintenance) nor able to be separated from the pneumatic sources that drive his hardware and so will be unable to respond favorably to an offer for cocktails next door at the Aura.” Frederick Murre on WIRED.com “There is no hotel on the planet in which I’d rather stay.” Mike Channell (@mikechannell) on Twitter
Re: “Boldly Go”
“SPACE AFICIONADOS, READ THIS. WARNING: MAY CAUSE FANTASIES ABOUT WORKING AT NASA.” Emme (@servadei1) on Twitter
“I’ve been scarﬁng up sci-ﬁ books with deep-space themes for a while now, and any thought of it becoming a reality just gets me all ﬁred up.” HankScorpio on WIRED.com “I fervently hope that humanity will emerge as a spacefaring race that utilizes the resources
of the entire solar system for the general benefit of humankind.” rickcollins on WIRED.com “Exploring space holds a lot of dangers, but it also provides an incredible amount of opportunity for scientiﬁc learning.” AKR_WHSAstronomy on Reddit
Re: “Fast Forward”: Andy Rubin plans to unleash AI on the world “I think the most likely path for AI is that neural networks will ‘learn’ based on patterns that get fed in from networked devices. That’s how Google got very, very good at recognizing speech. As each domain falls under the mastery of a neural net, the challenge will be creating an interface that can tie them all together.” Itisnotatumah on Reddit
Re: “The Fraud Fighter”: Hunting Medicare scammers “Fraud is rampant across this country, be it medical insurance, car insurance, homeowner’s insurance, or government workers scamming the system. A lot of people want everything without having to work for it. Very sad commentary.” Jack Mabry on WIRED.com
Re: Crowdfundng Is Evil”: At least when it comes to the public good think you’ve made a mistake in your portrayal of Neighborly. The piece is about using privatedonation-based crowdfunding to fund public goods. Neighborly stopped operating a crowdfunding platform in November 2014. Municipal bonds are not crowdfunding; they’re part of a 200-year-old market for funding public infrastructure. They’re how most public infrastructure is currently funded.” Rodrigo Davies, chief product officer at Neighborly
UNDO Mickey McManus’ T-shirt says, “Everything revolves around me,” not “I’m the center of the universe” (“Postcards From the Astronauts’ Lounge,” issue 24.03).
TWITTERBOTS UNITED FAKE FOLLOWERS COULD WRECK THE ELECTION
BY SAMUEL WOOLLEY AND PHIL HOWARD
understands minority communities. Just ask Pepe Luis Lopez, Francisco Palma, and Alberto Contreras. These guys are among the candidate’s 7 million Twitter followers, and each tweeted in support of Trump after his victory in the Nevada caucuses earlier this year. The problem is, Pepe, Francisco, and Alberto aren’t people. They’re bots—spam accounts that post autonomously using programmed scripts. ¶ Trump’s rhetoric has alienated much of the Latino electorate, a fastgrowing voting community. And while it’s unclear who’s behind the accounts of Pepe and his digital pals, their tweets succeed in impersonating Latino voters at a time when the real estate mogul needs them most. ¶ Bots tend to have few followers and disappear quickly, dropping propaganda bombs as they go. Or they just sit around and do nothing. According to the site TwitterAudit, one in DONALD TRUMP
four of Trump’s followers is fake, and similar ratios run through the accounts of the other presidential hopefuls. Even if most of these bots are inactive, they still exaggerate a candidate’s popularity. Our team of researchers at the University of Washington and the University of Oxford tracks bot activity in politics all over the world, and what we see is disturbing. In past elections, politicians, government agencies, and advocacy groups have used bots to engage voters and spread messages. We’ve caught bots disseminating lies, attacking people, and poisoning conversations. Automated campaign communications are a very real threat to our democracy. We need more transparency about where bots are coming from, and we need it now, or bots could unduly influence the 2016 election. funny, good bots exist online. Built by everyone from digital artists to data wonks, they range quite drastically, and hilariously, in their AI sophistication. @twoheadlines randomly combines the headlines of the day (“roc ket leagu e sees no path forward; says he’ll skip next republican debate”); when you tweet the phrase “sneak peak,” @stealthmountain surfaces to correct your spelling to “peek.” Lately, Silicon Valley has been touting bots as a new tool for social engagement. Policy makers, journalists, and civic leaders often use them transparently: @congressedits uncovers political interference on Wikipedia, @staywokebot critiques racial injustice, and The New York Times’ new election bot promotes political participation. But as the power of bots grows, so does the capacity for misuse.
PLENTY OF SMART,
Bots now pollute conversations around topics like #blacklivesmatter and #guncontrol, interrupting productive debate with outpourings of automated hate. We’ve seen antivaccination bots reach out to parents in a campaign to discourage child inoculations. So it’s no surprise that bots are creeping into election politics. Researchers at Wellesley College
IF BOTS CAN SPREAD LIES ABOUT YOUR RIVALS, WHY NOT UNLEASH THEM? found evidence that when Scott Brown successfully ran for senator in 2010, a conservative group used bots to attack his opponent, Martha Coakley. Gawker reported in 2011 that Newt Gingrich’s campaign bought more than a million fake followers. Outside the US, Mexico’s Institutional Revolutionary Party was caught using thousands of bots to spread campaign messages. This is only the start. For years, robocalling and push polling have been used to manipulate voters—but not everyone is reachable by landline anymore. We believe bots could become the go-to mode for negative campaigning in the age of social media. Say the race is close in your state. If an army of bots can seed the web with negative information about the opposing candidate, why not unleash them? If you’re an activist hoping to get your message out to millions, why not have bots do it? Don’t underestimate bots: There are tens of millions of them on Twitter alone, and
Samuel Woolley (@samuelwoolley) is project manager of PoliticalBots.org. Phil Howard (@pnhoward) is a professor at the University of Oxford and the University of Washington.
automated scripts generate 60 percent of traffic on the web at large. The worst bots undermine voter sophistication by pervading the networks people go to for news and information. The Federal Elections Commission has issued very few advisory statements on how campaigns should use social media, and there’s no evidence it has even started thinking about bots. It certainly wouldn’t serve democracy to block speech, but we need to make it easier for everyone to recognize political bots. Studies at Indiana University have suggested that obvious bot accounts are much less effective at spreading political lies. Facebook and Twitter currently rely on passive and somewhat arbitrary methods for combating automated speech; they tend to wait for users to report suspicious activity and have a patchy record when it comes to stopping harmful propaganda. Yet they’re perfectly capable of labeling nonbot messages derived from a platform API or mobile phones. Just as Wikipedia alerts readers to flawed articles, social media sites should clearly identify fake users—with big red flags, say. For their part, candidates need to be more vigilant in policing their accounts, vowing to fight computational propaganda. American political discourse is ugly enough; we already endure so many dirty tricks. Demanding bot transparency would at least help clean up social media— which, for better or worse, is increasingly where presidents get elected. �
DEPTH FINDER SURFACING ANCIENT CITIES he uncovered an Egyptian artifact, archaeologist Franck Goddio was at the bottom of the Alexandria harbor. He had excavated 5 feet of muck to find a bench-sized block of red granite, and, as the water cleared, he read the hieroglyphics inscribed on the stone through his scuba mask: “Life Forever.” For Goddio, it was transformative. “A beautiful message from
THE FIRST TIME
This stela, or carved monument, is now in the British Museum. 2.
A colossal statue of the god Hapy (also above) being pulled from the ocean. 3.
Goddio uses a mix of classic and high tech excavation techniques.
the past,” he says. It was a Raiders of the Lost Ark moment, and it’s not Goddio’s only one. He was an economic adviser to the UN before (metaphorically) climbing out his office window to follow his real passion for underwater archaeology, and since then he has found everything from shipwrecked galleons to a bowl that may make the earliest known reference to Christ. And, guided by the work of ancient writers like Herodotus, he has discovered not one but two submerged ancient Egyptian cities, Canopus and ThonisHeracleion.
The cities had been lost to history after mysteriously sinking beneath the sea. But while they may have once been hangouts for historical celebrities like Helen of Troy, ﬁnding and excavating the sites has been more gritty than glamorous. For all the high tech equipment Goddio used to locate the ruins (side-scan sonar, nuclear-resonance magnetometer), excavation is a meticulous process of dredging away the sediment, surveying the site, and diving into the (often polluted) water to bring things to the surface. Luckily for us, Goddio shares Indiana Jones’ opinion on where artifacts belong: This May the British Museum will put his best ﬁnds back in the public eye for the ﬁrst time since about AD 800. —Emma Grey Ellis
PHOTOGRAPHS: CHRISTOPH GERIGK/COURTESY OF FRANCK GODDIO/HILTI FOUNDATION (INSETS)
PLAY FAIR OR PAY THE PRICE
$9.2M Performanceenhancing drugs
Suspensions (without pay)
$135,000 Flagrant foul
$877,000 Other fines
$1.2M Off-field violation
$4.0M Other suspensions
$804,000 Hit on a defenseless player
$2.1M Other fines
$585,000 Late hit
Colin Kaepernick was fined $10,000 for wearing Beats headphones at a news conference instead of the league-approved Bose brand.
$247,000 Striking/ kicking/ kneeing
$36.6M Substance abuse
$4.1M Other suspensions
$1.6M Roughing the passer
$4.4M Technical foul
$1.9M Substance abuse
$5.5M Other suspensions
$2.2M Performanceenhancing drugs
THE FLOP is a signature move in modern basketball—take a fall to draw a foul. But get caught and the NBA will fine you $5,000 or more. In the NFL, where there are only 16 games a season, even a one-game suspension (for, say, getting high) can mean losing a six-figure sum. OK, so you’re not feeling sympathetic, knowing these athletes still walk away with millions. Fair enough. But the next time you laugh at Draymond Green picking up another technical foul, remember he’s going to shell out $4K for losing his cool. —Seth Kadish
Total league penalties for the last three seasons from:
$569,000 Unsportsmanlike conduct
$437,000 Grabbing face mask
$557,000 Helmet-tohelmet hit
$9.8M Substance abuse
$34.7M Performanceenhancing drugs
Four players were suspended in April 2014 for a bench-clearing brawl between Pittsburgh and Milwaukee.
SOURCE: SPOTRAC; DATA FOR THE LAST THREE COMPLETE SEASONS, AS OF MARCH 2016; UNDISCLOSED FINES NOT INCLUDED; MLB DATA EXCLUDES INACTIVE PLAYERS AND FREE AGENTS WHO HAD NO SALARY
HOT INVESTING TIPS GET IN EARLY ON THE NEXT GOOGLE
WHEN BIG STARTUPS go public and all those early investors become gazillionaires, it’s like: “Why can’t that be me?” Now, with a little bit of luck, it can! Thanks to newly approved JOBS Act rules, you no longer have to make $200K a year or have a net worth of $1 million to invest in a sta startup—you tup you just need to have some cash. You’ll ou do you your sshopping opp g o on a new crop of so ng portals, with names like Crowdfunder an king a project, as you would on Kickstarter, y mpany. But don’t just throw your hard-earn We asked the experts what you need to kno ent. —Julia Greenberg
Check for cre edibility. Determine whether a reputable m management team iss running the porttal you choose to usse. Be critical. Thesse portals are bran nd-new— the ﬁrst batch h will go live this May. 2
Look for wha at you know and lik ke. Don’t have a clue about law? Steer clear of legall tech. Are you a wo orld-class parent? You m may have an adva antage in identifying g viable parenting up pstarts. Products for people rather tha an businesses may a also be a safer bet. “Crowdfundin ng works best w when people invesst in what they kn now—for example, dentists investing in ssoftware for den ntists.” —Chris Dixon, partner at An ndreessen Horowit Horowitz
Think different. Be open to ideas and people you wouldn’t expect to see in the tech world. As the platforms evolve, they may develop into the best way to fund things beyond startups, like scientiﬁc research or local franchises. 4
Investigate the founders. Why are they using an equity crowdfunding portal in the ﬁrst place? Did they have trouble raising money elsewhere? Bad news. Did they tank their last company? Proceed with caution. Do they have a nontraditional background? Risky but OK. Have their friends and family contributed a lot already? Great! “A white male from a good school who lives in San Francisco or New York shouldn’t have much trouble getting funding. You have to wonder why they’re coming to crowdfunding.” —Ethan Mollick, professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School
Watch out for fraud. Be skeptical if founders are cagey or the community is quiet on the message boards. Find a platform with a record of taking quick action when there’s evidence of a scam. 7
Diversify your investments. If you’re hoping to make money—real talk, most of you won’t—invest in a wide array of people and ideas. “Diversiﬁcation here means being invested in 60 or 100 startups. Even the best VCs are betting on the outliers that really hit it out of the park.” —Christian Catalini, professor at MIT’s Sloan School of Management
Know your fellow investors. If you want to invest in a biotech startup, make sure the existing funders aren’t just amateurs. But you don’t want all scientists either.
Don’t be a dummy. Learn the SEC rules, read the ﬁne print for the portals, and scrutinize the startups’ ﬁlings. Know your rights as an investor and what will happen to your shares if more people contribute later. Remember the risks. Don’t invest money you can’t afford to lose. MAY 2016
W H AT TO DO BEFORE YO U G O READ Clown Girl by Monica Drake Heartsick series by Chelsea Cain Palahniuk says: “The books are loaded with local atmosphere and history.” WATC H Drugstore Cowboy directed by Gus Van Sant My Own Private Idaho also by Van Sant Palahniuk says: “Both were shot in Portland and document the scruffy, grim city during the pre-Nirvana, pre-Portlandia era.”
“Portland used to have these old themed restaurants— big grand old supper club kind of places. For the most part they’ve disappeared, but one of the very few left is Wilfs (1). It’s in the train station. Nobody really thinks to go and have dinner at the train station, but there’s a jazz club and a classic red-velvet-ﬁlled dining room. They still do steak Diane and all these ﬂaming things that they prepare tableside, so it’s like walking into Mad Men.”
Favorite Bar “I like the Hawthorne Hophouse (2) up at Southeast Hawthorne and 41st Avenue. They have outdoor tables, and they let me take my dog there. I go almost once a week all summer, because they will serve my dog from the children’s menu.”
CHUCK PALAHNIUK’S PORTLAND “KEEP PORTLAND WEIRD.” So goes the Oregon
originally called it the Venetian. It has the ornate shabbiness of century-old plush everything.”
of my life when it was just great to live in these falling-down,
“Kidd’s Toy Museum (3)—it pretty much has no sign. It’s just a plain door on Southeast Grand Avenue. A man who had made his fortune in auto parts, who had had very few toys as a child, turned a warehouse into this huge collection of amazing antique kids’ toys. My favorite gadget is something you must discreetly request to see. It’s German-made, of handblown glass: a beautiful ﬁgure of a nude woman astride a toilet.”
Our Spot “I still always go to Wild Abandon (4) on Southeast Belmont. My husband and I got together when they ﬁrst opened. It was a friend of his who opened it. So we’ve gone there for more than 20 years.”
Entertainment “St. Johns is a cool neighborhood now, but I’ve always liked the St. Johns Twin Cinema (5). It opened in 1925 and typiﬁes theaters of that era. They
city’s unofficial motto, and Chuck Palahniuk is certainly doing his part. The author of books Shopping like Choke, Snuff, and, most famously, Fight Club, Palahniuk specializes in antiheroes who “I really like the Haware into some wonderfully crazy shit. This thorne district, espeJune, Portland-based comic book publisher cially the stuff at the Gold Door (6). It’s an Dark Horse is releasing its 10 issues of Fight eclectic imports store. Club 2 as a complete graphic novel. The idea I’m a regular.” to do a sequel as a comic came about at a writers’ workshop dinner where comics super- Detour stars Kelly Sue DeConnick, Matt Fraction, and Brian Michael Bendis urged Palahniuk “There’s a strange little street that nobody to try something different. “It was just a big knows about, right in ambush to pressure me into writing a comic,” the middle of everything. It’s called TrinPalahniuk says. He accepted, and the story is ity Place (7), and it’s dark and delightful—much like Palahniuk’s lined with ancient recommendations for what to do in the city apartment buildings. I lived there at a time that gave it life. —Jordan Crucchiola
beautiful buildings and still be in the center of the city.”
Must-See “I love fringe culture things, and fringe culture things always disappear in an instant, but one that’s still there is this enormous, sprawling mausoleum in the Sellwood district called Wilhelm’s Portland Memorial (8), which is over 100 years old. It’s like being inside an Escher print—you just see down endless galleries, up and down stairways, and you have no idea how to get to those distant, different levels. Plus, it has windows that look out over a swamp—acres and acres of rotting wetland—with an old amusement park in the distance called Oaks Park. You’re looking at this vista that is very Edgar Allan Poe.”
“For 50 minutes, three times each week over the past 10 years ... I’ve been emerging to run the world.” —T YLER DURDEN, Fight Club 2
Fluffy and Spot can thank the French for the end of weekly ﬂea baths. Almost three decades ago, chemists working for French pharma Rhône Mérieux (now known as Merial) noticed that its ﬁpronil-based ﬂea killer was lethal for a lot longer than expected. Turns out, ﬁpronil is fat-soluble and accumulates inside the oil glands that animals have on their skin. Once absorbed, this insecticide leaks out of the glands slowly, coating strands of your best friend’s fur. Along comes a tick or ﬂea, jonesing for a blood ﬁx. Instead, it rubs up against some of that ﬁproniltainted fur. The poison attacks Jumpy McFlea’s nerve cells, binding to receptors meant to receive signals that keep the critter’s nerves sort of relaxed. The bug’s nervous system goes hyperactive, and within 30 minutes it convulses to death. Pauvre petite nuisance ...
Tick eggs aren’t a problem for pets, since those suckers fall off before they lay eggs. But a female ﬂea can lay about 50 eggs a day in an animal’s fur, and in the concentrations here, ﬁpronil can’t scramble them all. So Frontline deploys this harmless-tomammals chemical. S-methoprene seeps into the egg, where it pretends to be a hormone that keeps the bug baby from attaining its next developmental stage. Like a logic error, the chemical imposter interrupts things and babyﬂea.exe crashes.
FRONTLINE PLUS KILL THE PESTIES ON YOUR BESTIE THE VOORHES
Around 80 percent of the contents of Frontline Plus are not frontline combatants.That portion consists of chemicals like glycol ether and ethanol, which keep the ﬁpronil and S-methoprene stable. Since they’re inert, Merial doesn’t have to disclose much about these substances. One thing we do know: Without them, Frontline Plus would be less vigorous at vanquishing those tiny vampires. — NICK STOCK TON MAY 2016
REAL OR FAKE SPOT THE BOGUS GENE PROJECTS stormed biology labs, scientists have been racing to put the genomeediting tool—the most precise and easiest ever—to use. Here are some real projects under way in labs and a few, well, less-than-real ones. Can you tell them apart? —Sarah Zhang EVER SINCE CRISPR
1. Muscle-bound superdogs
2. Genetic redos
4. Germ killers
So long, protein powder. Deleting just one growth-inhibiting gene creates dogs with twice as much muscle mass, which is apparently great for police and military dogs. Maybe not so great for family pets.
So you’ve committed a crime and the police have your DNA—the one immutable part of any human being. But packed into viruses and inhaled, this new geneediting tool gets to work rewriting your genetic ﬁngerprint.
A woolly mammoth isn’t that different from an elephant. Scientists are splicing mammoth genes for small ears, fat, and hair into elephants. If this de-extinction works, the animal may one day roam the earth again.
Superbugs are taking over—but maybe the best way to ﬁght drug-resistant bacteria isn’t with drugs at all. Crispr can search out and destroy superbugs, identifying and then obliterating their unique gene sequences.
Bananas are a mighty convenient fruit: They come with their own handle and a natural wrapper. What is inconvenient is how easily they bruise. Crispr those blemishes away!
Pigs are pretty similar to humans, but we can’t borrow their organs … yet. Use Crispr to tweak several dozen genes and, hey, is that a pig-slash-human l gI ?
Pandas are bad at having sex. Like embarrassingly bad. Crispr can’t save their sex lives, but scientists can use it to ﬁx any bad genes in sperm, increasing the success rate of panda in vitro fertilization.
Natural carnivores like domesticated cats need an environmentally unsustainable diet full of animal protein. Genetically altering a cat’s metabolism lets them eat veggies and veggies alone.
Real: Superdogs, pig-to-human transplants, mammoths, germ killers 3
Troll 2 on inﬁnite repeat Good cop/ bad cop
Bad cop/ worst cop Waterboarding
QUALITY OF INTELLIGENCE
Relevance of Tidal
Donald Trump “Trump” headlines in US media— TV, websites, newspapers, charts
Relevance of record labels
Surprise album releases
BY JO N J. E I LE N B E R G
His respect for immigrants, rivals, women, former presidents, POWs, the truth …
Overseas respect for US politics
DON’T TEXT AND DRIVE EXPERTS ON WAYS TO STOP
Augment your reality Dan Eisenhardt, general manager of Intel’s head-worn devices group, says AR goggles could let you see messages without taking your eyes off the road. And we’d use voiceto-text to respond. ROADBLOCK:
The frustrations of using voice recognition could cause road rage.
Practice being terrible One problem is that we text so often without consequence, we convince ourselves we’re good at it. Richard Gasaway, who trains first responders on situational awareness, suggests that drivers get behind a simulator that shows how easy it is to crash—and kill or die—while distracted. All driver’s license applicants should be required to go through this before they’re allowed to hit the streets. ROADBLOCK: Is making the DMV experience even longer really the way to go?
Cut the signal
You text behind the wheel. You know it’s stupid, but you can’t stop. And it’s killing people. In 2013, distracted driving was a factor in 16 percent of US car crashes, killing 3,154 people and injuring 424,000. Just look at the driver next to you on the highway or at a stoplight—at any given moment, the Feds say, 587,000 Americans are driving with a cell phone in their hand. The youngs are especially at risk: One in 10 teen drivers involved in a fatal crash was distracted, and a quarter of teens send a text every time they drive. Of course, no one’s ignoring the issue. Forty-six states have outlawed texting while driving. The government puts millions into ad campaigns. But nothing has worked. So how do we finally let go of the preciousss? Here are some ways we can try. —Alex Davies ADMIT IT:
Cellcontrol’s DriveID system uses Bluetooth to target a driver’s phone and disable most of its functions while leaving the passengers’ phones fully enabled. ROADBLOCK: It costs $129. And drivers could just hold their phones way over on the passenger side of the car, becoming even more of an inattentive road hazard.
Play the lottery In 2010, Sweden used a speed camera to fine all drivers going too fast on one road. Then it selected a driver who obeyed the limit and gave them all the money. The idea came from former game designer Kevin Richardson, who knew the power of positive reinforcement. Find a way to detect dangerous phone use and run the same program with texting. ROADBLOCK: There’s no reliable way to know who’s texting while driving—yet.
Enlist the youth Kids around 10 years old are very attuned to rule-breaking, says Margaret Ryan at Dublin’s Centre for Innovative Human Systems, and getting scolded by them is more likely to change an adult’s behavior than the tiny risk of a fine. Record kids and program the car to blare their chidings when the Bluetooth detects phone use. ROADBLOCK: Car buyers might be reluctant to opt for the Children of the Horn safety package.
D E B U T S O F N O W - S TA N D A R D A U T O M O T I V E I N N O V AT I O N S AT T H E I N D Y 5 0 0 , B Y Y E A R : 1 9 1 1 R E A R V I E W M I R R O R // 1 9 2 1 F O U R - W H E E L H Y D R A U L I C
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YO U ’ VE A R R I V E D. The moment you enter the stunning obby, you’ fee at home. From the shimmering mezzanine to Unc e Harry’s, the exc usive resident ounge on the top floor, every space in the building is thoughtfully and artfully designed to be a p ace you’ actua y want to spend time. And in addition to our doormen, The Harrison provides a specia ized concierge service, to make the transition from city to home and back to city even more effort ess.
This is not an offer to sell, but is intended for information only The seller reserves the right to make modifications in materials, specifications, plans, designs, pricing, scheduling and delivery of the homes without prior notice. Room layouts and views will vary with each unit and are subject to change. Please consult with a sales agent for The Harrison for the details of any particular unit. Exclusively represented by The Mark Company. CalBRE License #01527205.
I THINK SOMEONE IS HATE-FAVING AND HATE-RT’ING MY PERSONAL TWEETS. SHE HAS 25K FOLLOWERS! SHOULD I CALL HER OUT? BY JON MOOALLEM
Easy. Couldn’t be easier. Hate-favoriting and hateretweeting is childish behavior. So if you want to be bold, by all means call her out. And if you want to be less bold but perhaps more effective, just block her: Game over. ¶ And yet, can I be honest? This may be the most subtly perplexing question I’ve ever had to pretend to be a know-it-all about. Because if I push just a bit on your premise, it all goes soft. I can see ancillary dilemmas, qualiﬁcations, and niggling unknowns pile up until the kind of clear, objective truth I’m required to ﬁnd gets hopelessly boxed in. There’s a lot here to pick apart. Let’s start with the corrosive, discombobulating nature of spite. ¶ Ever heard of the Spite Fence? Go back to 1876. San Francisco’s Big Four—the four main bazillionaire railroad barons—all decided to build mansions on a scenic, empty hilltop: Nob Hill. At least, it was mostly empty. Bounded within the large property purchased by one of these magnates, Charles Crocker, was a little house on a small, separate parcel owned by an undertaker named Nicholas Yung. Crocker wanted Yung gone; Yung wouldn’t sell. Crocker, bewildered that his money hadn’t made this inconvenience go away, kept making offers. Yung
kept declining. So Crocker—overcome with spite—started a ﬂame war. Or a wall war. Crocker built his mansion. Then he built a 30-foot-high wall on his land that effectively surrounded Yung’s property. It shut out the light. It shut Yung in. It was ridiculous looking, and people came from all over to gawk at it. There was a kind of class war brewing in the city at the time, and one activist pamphlet singled out Crocker’s fence as a “very obnoxious” symbol of “the domineering spirit” of the wealthy. The San Francisco Chronicle called the Spite Fence an “inartistic monument of resentment” and a “memorial of malignity and malevolence.” Yet Yung— the simple undertaker, just wanting to live his life, in his house—didn’t sell. The undertaker was himself essentially buried, though still aboveground. But he just took it, took the high road, and let that towering manifestation of Crocker’s out-of-control id speak for itself. Yung never even retaliated, though he thought about it. His wife said, “There are some things to which people like ourselves do not care to stoop.” You must feel like Nicholas Yung: tweeting through your life in a pure, happy-go-lucky way, only to see a wall of spite building up in this other person’s timeline, one hateful retweet at a time, to rebuke you. And like I said at the outset: How nasty that is; how immature. But why do you think these likes and retweets are hate-likes and hate-retweets, as opposed to supportive likes and supportive retweets? What would lead you to this conclusion? I can’t help but wonder if there’s something you’re not telling me—if you yourself worry there’s an arrogant, airheaded, obnoxious, or self-congratulatory tone to what you’re tweeting, the sort of attitude that typically elicits that kind of resentment online. Are you, for example, relentlessly issuing tidbits like “So lucky my baby sleeps for 12 hours each night!!!!!! Almost enough time for tantric sex with my amazing partner!” or “Just had lunch with Bon Jovi! #blessed”? I’m not saying you are. I’m just wondering. Honestly. I don’t want to blame the victim. My point is, the victim of one kind of obnoxiousness can be a perpetrator of another. You ought to give that a hard think and ﬁgure out which side of this Spite Fence you’re actually standing on, before you poke your head over and start shouting.
WE’RE WALKIN’ HERE! THE NEW MOBILE MENACE
a sidewalk when—GAAK! Out of nowhere zips some grown man on a hoverboard, so oblivious to the world that he has no idea he nearly took you down. Welcome to the streets of San Francisco, beta-testing ground for the nation. Among a growing class of urban commuter, walking is out and wheels are in: big wheels, fast wheels, retro wheels, Airwheels. And yes, these are adults careening down our walkways. A woman in a sharp suit on a scooter designed for 8-year-olds. A 6-foot-4 venture capitalist on a motorized skateboard. At first these alternate modes of transport seemed futuristically cool, but we’re over it—and ready to reclaim our sidewalks from the wheelydork hordes. Watch out, your sidewalks are next. Here are the most hazardous objects speeding toward a city near you. —Jordan Crucchiola
YOU’RE STROLLING ALONG
1. Boosted Dual+
PERFECT FOR: Sad sacks who can’t push
Screaming toward you at up to 22 mph, this skateboard is propelled by 2,000 watts of power— which is approximately 2,000 more watts of power than anyone needs. $1,499 0
Now that this piece of technology is known to blow up and start fires, it’s an even hotter commodity. PRICE VARIES
Nothing marketed to kids 8 and up should be used by adults going to work—or anywhere else, for that matter (though at least it requires actual effort to operate). $100
4. Acton Rocket Skates R10
5. Xiaomi Ninebot Mini
Roller Derby radicals
Mall cops of America
6. Airwheel Q3 PERFECT FOR:
Juggling circus monkeys
Soon these brandnew Heelys-onsteroids will cause early adopters to spill scalding-hot coffee all over themselves on the street at 12 mph. Awesome! $699
This miniaturized Segway can tackle a 15-degree incline, taking society one step (er, roll) closer to the Wall-E future in which our bones shrink to toothpicks. $306
It may max out at 11 mph, but the Q3 still weighs 30 pounds. So if the rider loses control, it becomes a rolling juggernaut of death. Hide your puppies. $699
CHRISTIE HEMM KLOK
READ MY LIPS
ROBO-CRITI UE RATING SPACEY’S SO O S
KEVIN SPACEY HAS an uncanny talent for celeb-
rity impersonation. And now he’s playing the oft-mimicked not-a-crook in Elvis & Nixon, in theaters April 22. But though Spacey’s dead president and Katharine Hepburn impressions sound pitch-perfect to us, we are mere humans, with fallible ears. We wanted to know if Spacey’s vocal copies sounded good to a machine. So we asked Nuance, a company that provides biometric customer authentication for banks, insurance ﬁrms, and the like, to run some clips through FreeSpeech, its program for verifying “voiceprints.” ¶ It turns out that Spacey’s impressions are better than most, but none can fool a robot. Why? About half the characteristics that FreeSpeech tests are based on physical attributes, like vocal cord length, mouth shape, and nasal passage size. In a sense, the software knows that Spacey can’t move his lips exactly like Christopher Walken. But behavioral factors—qualities like accents, pronunciation, and rapidity of speech? Those can be imitated. So do your Jack Nicholson at the drive-thru for laughs—but don’t bet on hacking into his bank account. We simplified Nuance’s robotfriendly quantitative rating system to show you how Spacey stacks up against other imitators. —Andrew Rosenblum RATING Uncanny
Imitators Kevin Spacey
Christopher Walken Bradley Cooper Kevin Spacey Johnny Carson Dana Carvey Kevin Spacey Al Pacino Bill Hader
Kevin Spacey Frank Langella Cate Blanchett
Katharine Hepburn Kevin Spacey
stentrode n. / 'sten- trōd / An electrode array that can be slipped into a cranial blood vessel through a cath' eter. By transmitting brain signals, it could allow quadriplegics to operate an exoskeleton—or ﬁnally let you change TV channels with your thoughts. Jurassic butterﬂies n. pl. / j -'ra-sik 'bu-t r- ﬂīz / Ancient insects ' that looked and acted like modern butterﬂies. The weird thing is they went extinct and nature evolved the same kind of creatures all over again 50 million years later. mousejacking v. / 'maus-ja-kiŋ / Hijacking a laptop via the wireless mouse connection. Using a small antenna, a hacker in a café can spoof your mouse’s signal to grab control while you sip your latte. dark sunshine n. / 'därk 'sun- shīn / The dark-matter equivalent of sunlight. The idea ' is, if dark particles in the sun collide, that may create “dark photons.” We wouldn’t see them, but there’s a good chance they’d decay into detectable positrons and electrons—conﬁrmation that dark matter really exists. —JONATHON KEATS CURT MERLO
subscribers; theSkimm, a news summarizer, has over 1.5 million. But from what I’ve seen, more newsletters are in the long tail—publishing for audiences from the single-digit thousands to the dozens. They’re engineered not for virality but originality: It’s a chance to listen in while someone thinks out loud. “Email is very intimate,” says Sophie Brookover, who writes—with fellow librarian Margaret Willison— the Two Bossy Dames newsletter, a crackling weekly meditation on pop culture. After blogs, Twitter, Medium, and Facebook, the inbox has become the new site of readerly seriousness: How weird is that? But it makes sense. Given how much spam and cc’d dreck we get, people fiercely guard the sanctity of their email. They don’t opt to receive more unless they mean to read it. The authors I interviewed typically enjoyed an “open” rate of up to 70 percent, much higher than the average for corporate newsletters, a scant 20 percent. Millennials may not use email for social contact, but they certainly use it, and newsletters aimed at that demographic—Finimize for financial news, Clover for young women—have grown rapidly. Being opt-in has another benefit: It allows newsletters to stay weird. Social media publishing increasingly relies on clickbaity headlines. Every utterance has been ruthlessly A/B tested for shareability. But newsletter writers already have your attention, so they’re free to be literary and inventive —using allusive subject lines “that nobody would click on were it on Facebook,” as marketing consultant and writer Simon Owens says. “They’re throwing every rule out the window.” Inside, they’re just as eclectic: a mashup of links, ruminations, pictures, and GIFs more like the zines of the 1980s, as Owens puts it. It’s also a change in tempo. Newsletters mark a turn in our online communications away from the hummingbird metabolism of status updates and toward something more contemplative. The pleasure in reading a newsletter comes from the view into a unitary mind at work—like my single favorite newsletter, Metafoundry, by my friend Debbie Chachra, a materials scientist. Reading it is like being plugged Oculus-style into her brain while she meditates on science and culture. The best newsletters are all like that: places online where one can talk—and listen—in private. �
NEWSLETTER TIME THE RISE OF THE SLOW WORDS MOVEMENT by clive thompson
a coffee and read my gazette about dust. ¶ Yes, dust. I subscribe to Disturbances, a weekly email newsletter in which a British cultural geographer named Jay Owens writes about the science, history, and culture of dust. Owens discusses the gritty dirt that blankets Californian ghost towns, links to NASA’s online collection of cosmic dust, and ruminates on the 30-μ m/sec. floating velocity of particles in a room. It’s quirky, erudite, and totally spellbinding. ¶ Owens started Disturbances to recapture some of the intellectual jolt she got from her academic work a decade ago. These days, personal blogs have gotten rarer, as everyday conversation has shifted to shorter-form social media. But Owens wanted a place to muse at length on her obsession. “A newsletter is a place to work through stuff, to use as an extended notebook,” Owens says, “and that’s what blogging used to be.” ¶ Newsletters are, improbably, in vogue. As a form, they’re ancient in Internet years—email lists date back to the Arpanet. But six years ago, Phil Kaplan launched TinyLetter, a simple tool for running a newsletter, and a renaissance began. TinyLetter (now owned by mailing-list giant MailChimp) has 191,787 users and adds about 2,000 every month. ¶ Which is to say, this isn’t a new digital goldmine poised to monetize all our eyeballs. Sure, there are some professional-class newsletters. Ben Thompson’s Stratechery costs $100 a year. Lena Dunham’s Lenny Letter has 400,000 EVERY WEEK I GRAB
FETISH DAS BOOT LEICA’S CAMERAS have proven their excellence in war zones and on city streets. But you’d
have to be batshit-insane to take one snorkeling. Nearly every model in the centuryold German outﬁt’s line is as expensive as a studio apartment in San Francisco. Now the aquaventurous can shoot in style with the Leica X-U, the company’s ﬁrst fully ruggedized camera. Its shock-resistant, sealed shell protects against not only water (down to 15 meters) but also dirt, grime, and clumsiness. With an ultrasharp 23-mmequivalent ﬁxed lens, light-gulping f/1.7 max aperture, and generous 16.5-megapixel APS-C sensor, the X-U has the chops you’d expect of any camera wearing the iconic red dot. Superdope design detail: The ﬂash is mounted on the top edge of the lens barrel—great for subsurface ﬁsh photos. Just under $3K isn’t exactly couch-cushion change, but, hey, it’s not bad for a Leica. —TIM MOYNIHAN
4K CAMERA DRONES
HEAD-TO-HEAD PROP DEPARTMENT Any video is improved by stellar aerial footage. These eye-in-thesky bots deliver stunning, pro-quality results. —MICHAEL CALORE
DJI Phantom 4 BEST FOR:
Filming in tight quarters
Yuneec Typhoon H BEST FOR: Worry-free ﬂying and shooting
Why six rotors instead of four? Redundancy. Yuneec’s ﬁrst consumer hexacopter can ﬂy with just ﬁve props, so should one conk out high above the radness on the BMX track, the remaining spinners can bring your investment safely back to earth. And the landing gear can retract after the H takes off, so the camera can spin around and capture 360 unobstructed degrees.
The latest version of DJI’s best-selling Phantom has an awesome upgraded camera, with less edge distortion and chromatic aberration. Plus, the rig’s stabilizing gimbal calms most vibrations. And if your kung fu epic is set in a forest, you’ll love the collision-avoidance system: Sensors up front detect hazards, and the bot steers around them while the camera stays locked on target.
Samsung Gear 360
Interrogation droid or VR camera? Both! Just kidding, it’s a camera. The Gear 360 has two ﬁsh-eye lenses that gobble up the scene in 4K video or 30-megapixel panoptic stills. Use the mount on the bottom to fasten it to a helmet or a tripod. Load your videos onto a Samsung phone, and plop that into a Gear VR.
Ricoh Theta S Not all 360 cameras are tiny globes. Ricoh’s rig is as long as a smartphone but narrower, with a ﬁsheye lens on each ﬂat side to capture 360-degree photos and HD video. Connected to a computer, it can livestream spherical videos. A slow-shutter feature lets you grab 5K whole-sky nighttime stills of the stars.
The distinctive feature of this waterproof action camera is its single skywardfacing, ultrawideangle lens. It captures everything around and above you (but not below) in gripping 4K. The included mounts can grasp a surfboard, bike handlebar, or whatever other extreme conveyance you’re getting gnarly on.
TOP 3 ROUNDABOUTS Don’t just rely on Hollywood to tackle VR. Create your own headset masterpiece with these cameras that shoot videos and photos in 360 degrees. —MOLLY MCHUGH
HOW TO MOVING PICTURES Your clip of a rat schlepping a quesadilla has the power to out-hype a summer blockbuster. Do it right. —PAULA CHOWLES
Røde VideoMic Me directional microphone $69 2.
Joby GripTight Micro Stand $30 3.
Moondog Labs 1.33X anamorphic lens $175 1
Go Horizontal YouTube, Facebook, and Vimeo display videos in widescreen format, so get with the program. A simple rotation of your phone to horizontal allows you to ﬁll 100 percent of a web player. It’s also the same shape as a TV screen, so when your viral video makes the news, it won’t look like amateur hour.
Kill the Shakes Invest in a mini tripod or, even better, a camera-stabilizing gimbal. If you’re panning a handheld shot, place your hips in the direction of the point where your shot ﬁnishes. And here’s a dirty little secret: If you’re on your own but want a smooth third-person point-of-view shot of yourself, buy a selﬁe stick. You can edit out the snickers of onlookers later.
Paula Chowles (@paulachowles) is a video producer at WIRED.
Fix It in Post 2
Watch the Light
ﬁeld usually associated with a cinematic ﬁlm,” Baker says, “but once you accept that your entire scene will be in focus, it becomes a big part of the ﬁlm. I wanted people to see parts of LA that they don’t usually see.” Pro tip from Baker: If you’re using a gimbal, make sure it can counterbalance the weight of your lens adapter.
Record video with the sun at your back to keep your subject fully lit. Most videocapture apps let you toggle the exposure when the actor is backlit, but you’ll always risk blowing out the rest of your scene. When indoors, arrange standing lamps to create a simple three-point light setup—move them around until you eliminate harsh shadows.
Listen Up So you’ve invested in a lens and maybe a tripod, now don’t skimp on sound. There are several directional mic adapters designed speciﬁcally for smartphones. If you need to use multiple mics, record sound separately and drop it in during the edit.
Stay Focused Director Sean Baker produced an entire feature ﬁlm, Tangerine, using the iPhone 5s. He opted for an anamorphic lens adapter made by Moondog Labs. “You aren’t going to get the shallow depth of
Many ﬁlmmakers who work with iPhones use Filmic Pro ($10) to record their video and then dump the footage onto a computer for editing. If you’re itching to get your clips online now, skip the desktop and edit in iMovie for iOS. On Android, try PowerDirector. Laying text over the image is currently all the rage in web video. For graphics wordplay on iOS, Gravie ($2) is all you need; for Android, use the app VideoShow.
Embrace the Phone It must be asked: Why not just buy a DSLR? The phone is an attractive tool for reasons beyond its pocketability. For Baker, the inconspicuous presence helps: “I work with a lot of nonprofessional actors, and because they are used to having phones around all the time, they feel relaxed and act natural while we are ﬁlming.”
THE EYE OF THE BEHOLDER The 50-mm lens is one of the most valuable tools in photography, precisely because it does so little. —JOE PUGLIESE
Sigma 50-mm f/1.4 DG HSM lens $949
IF HE WERE alive today, legendary photographer Henri CartierBresson would marvel at all the choices a modern shooter must make before arriving at “the decisive moment.” The roadblocks to creativity we place before ourselves are more prevalent than ever. Camera makers update their lenses, sensors, and formats with overwhelming frequency. We can read hundreds of expert (and not-so-expert) opinions on every new piece of gear before we even begin to think about where to point the thing and when to press the shutter. While we all search for the one camera system that will somehow allow us to elevate our technique, a humble and ingenious solution has been here the whole time, ready for us to embrace or rediscover its beautiful simplicity: the 50-mm lens.
This unassuming and ubiquitous piece of glass is beloved by pros and serious hobbyists alike. Maybe it’s the lens our parents had on the family camera or the lens we peered through in our high school photo class. We didn’t mind that it had no extra features. We accepted that if a good picture was going to happen with this setup, it wasn’t going to be the lens doing the creative heavy lifting. To this day, when paired with a full-frame DSLR, the 50-mm has the same effect. That is to say, it has no real effect. The lens isn’t there to wow us. The canvas is set, Joe Pugliese (@joepugliese) and it’s our job to make a picture appear within shot our 24.02 it. We zoom with our feet, physically engaging cover story on with the composition, getting in close to pack General Motors.
the frame with information or backing off to let the scene play through. These technical limits liberate our brains from interference. The 50-mm won’t save us from taking a bad picture, but it won’t get in our way either. For sure, there are many good reasons to use all the other lenses in one’s arsenal. Each photographer’s approach is as wonderfully unique and personal as it is varied. But we can surprise ourselves with how exciting it is to make a satisfying picture using the most basic of tools. Without falling into the trap of fetishizing a single piece of equipment for its retro vibe (which the photo community is inclined to do), the simple act of taking pictures with one of the most tried and tested setups in photographic history might be the easiest decision we’ll ever make.
25 People Who Are Creating the Future MAY 2016
Soon, software will know how you feel— and will use that data to sell you things. The gig economy will go global (but it’s not Uber-take-all). The tech industry will finally be inclusive. AI will achieve something like
common sense, and it will be open source too. But that future won’t build itself. Actual people (at least for now) have to make these things happen, and they aren’t the C-suite hotshots you always hear about.
The 25 people in these pages are the unsung creative, technical, and social visionaries working to bring the incredible world of tomorrow to you today. Get to know them now. They represent what’s N E X T. 0
Instant gratiﬁcation requires total control Stephenie Landry Vice President, Amazon Prime Now | Amazon
Encryption has mass appeal Moxie Marlinspike Founder | Open Whisper Systems
ENCRYPTION Percent of Google traffic that is encrypted, by country
86 84 82 82 82 81 79
Surveillance is about to get much harder for overly snoopy governments. In November 2014 the Facebook-owned messaging service WhatsApp made a big change to its Android app: It encrypted messages so that even Facebook can’t descramble them, no matter how many court orders the company receives. (Facebook recognized that transmitting unencrypted messages was a liability that put users’ privacy at risk.) But the crypto software wasn’t written by a Facebook employee. It was created by Moxie Marlinspike and his grant-funded software outﬁt, Open Whisper Systems. Marlinspike, who left his job as Twitter’s security guru three years ago, wants to make the Internet more secure for everyone. That’s why he lets any company use his software for free. WhatsApp has since expanded encryption to many of its 220 million users on iOS and other platforms worldwide, and Marlinspike says he’s in talks to bring the software to several other companies. Crypto: It’s not just for geeks anymore. —Klint Finley
Amazon has long favored growth over proﬁts, and in its nearly 22-year lifespan, the company has poured resources into building out a sprawling logistics infrastructure dedicated to giving you what you want almost immediately. Why should you have to wait for days (or, God forbid, leave your house) when you need toilet paper? Stephenie Landry is the force responsible for the instantaneousness of your gratiﬁcation—as vice president of Amazon Prime Now, she conceptualized how the company would bring onehour deliveries to life and assembled the team to work on the problem. “We have something at Amazon called the working-backward process,” Landry says. “We write a press release saying what we would announce to the world, and when I was writing the product concept, I wrote that the experience of Prime Now would be ‘magical.’ ” Since launching in December 2014, the service has gone live in four countries and more than 30 metropolitan areas around the world. And, as rumors swirl that Amazon may also be working on a global delivery network, Prime Now
increasingly looks to be a scaled-down version of the company’s long-term play: to be in complete control of the ﬂow of products in its supply chain, from factories in China and India all the way to your doorstep. That grand plan would involve not only trucks, cargo planes, and drones but also hundreds of thousands of humans working in warehouses and as couriers. And if anything like that aspirational picture of Prime Now actually emerges, UPS and FedEx should probably start prepping their contingency plans as soon as, well, now. —Davey Alba
Startups can be inclusive from day 1 Freada Kapor Klein Partner | Kapor Capital
They’re in the 1 percent, but there’s nothing elite about it. That’s the portion of black technical employees at Facebook, Google, and Twitter. And while you’d hope that the tech companies planning to move into Oakland, California—one of the most diverse cities in the US—would do better, there’s no guarantee. (Uber wants to open its global headquarters in the city by 2017.) An invasion of superwhite tech bros could end up drastically altering Oakland’s vibrant culture. Ugh.
77% 10% 8% 3% 1%
59% 22% 9% 7% 3%
CHART SOURCES: (ENCRYPTION) GOOGLE TRANSPARENCY REPORT, RETRIEVED 3/21/16; (DIVERSITY) KAUFFMAN INDEX; BADGE BY ALEX ROKA
The ethnicity of new entrepreneurs
Freada Kapor Klein wants to make sure that doesn’t happen. Once an early executive at office-software pioneer Lotus, she’s now a partner at Oakland-based Kapor Capital. In January the VC ﬁrm announced that startups in its portfolio must create a culture of inclusion from day one—by, say, reporting their progress on diversity during quarterly investor updates or adopting tools and training programs to mitigate biases in the hiring process and throughout employment. And diversity, it turns out, breeds diversity. Kapor Klein says other VCs have asked her how they can work with a more diverse group of entrepreneurs. She tells them: “Start with your own ﬁrm.” Indeed, at Kapor Capital, half the partners are black; more than two-thirds of its investment team are either black or Latino; and at the 112 companies it’s invested in, close to 60 percent of founders are from underrepresented backgrounds. But there’s still a lot of work to do: According to a recent report, a mere 11 startups led by black women have received more than $1 million in outside funding. They have typically been funded by the same three investors—and Kapor Capital is one of them. —D.A.
GMOs are essential for our survival Randal Kirk Chair & CEO | Intrexon
Randal Kirk has made billions from the sale of traditional pharma companies he helped shape. For example, New River, which he founded, developed the lucrative ADHD drug Vyvanse before the ﬁrm was acquired for $2.6 billion. Given that background, his latest venture might seem unorthodox. Called Intrexon, the ﬁrm has snapped up several controversial and money-losing synthetic-biology outﬁts that specialize in creating genetically modiﬁed organisms like mosquitoes and salmon. “Analysts don’t understand our company,” Kirk says. He doesn’t mind, though, because he’s playing the long game. Kirk believes that GMOs are the future, and he’s willing to wait. In the meantime, Intrexon turns a handsome dime helping livestock
farmers breed better animals, funding even bolder forays into altering DNA. Kirk may be onto something. In November the Food and Drug Administration ﬁnally approved GM salmon after a 20-year review process. (Supermarkets, of course, still have to agree to sell it.) And the outbreak of the Zika virus has renewed calls for a genetically modiﬁed mosquito that can’t reproduce. To Kirk, this is the kind of solution that humans will need in order to survive the effects of climate change and population growth. “The engineering of biology is probably the biggest event in the history of this planet,” he says. His embrace of genetically modified organisms is not exactly ideological—just good business. Now he’s waiting for the rest of the world to come around. —Sarah Zhang
The tyranny of the wireless carriers is over Nick Fox Vice President, Communications Products | Google
Imagine a world where cell phone carriers don’t rule, and the important thing is which signal is the best. Nick Fox is creating a future in which your smartphone moves seamlessly
The Zika outbreak has renewed calls for a genetically modiﬁed mosquito that can’t reproduce.
from network to network, cellular to Wi-Fi, T-Mobile to Sprint. And it’s closer than you might think. Fox oversees a Google effort called Project Fi. Available with the company’s latest Nexus smartphones, this 21st-century wireless service automatically shuttles you between networks to ﬁnd the best connection, period— all without interrupting your calls or texts. “The connectivity in these devices is like water,” Fox says. What’s more, you can pay for all this in small, ﬂat monthly fees—avoiding the overly expensive and complex pricing plans that so often weigh down traditional cell services. The only catch—and it’s a big one—is that carriers have to agree to allow this kind of switching. But over time they’ll likely have no choice. Manufacturers will build this option into their devices, and consumers will demand it. Already, Apple lets iPad users easily test multiple cellular carriers and choose between them, and it’s not a stretch to imagine the company making such switching possible on the iPhone next. Thanks to Fox, we’re moving toward a world where wireless networks orbit around us—not the other way around. —Cade Metz MAY 2016
Soon the tastes of India’s Netﬂix users may start shaping what you see in your videostream.
A golden age of coding is here Chris Lattner Senior Director, Developer Tools | Apple
Inside Apple, Chris Lattner leads the team that built Swift, one of a new breed of programming lan-
guages that give coders real power. With these languages, engineers are able to build software at rapidﬁre speeds, and the software itself runs at rapid-ﬁre speeds. In the past, they were often forced to choose one or the other. Now coders can have both. Swift began as a way to build software for iPhones, iPads, and Macs—a relief for coders who had spent so many years building software with the aging, Apple-centric language Objective-C. Like Google’s Go and Mozilla’s Rust, Swift combines speed of development with speed of execution. But in December, Lattner and Apple took the project to a whole new level: They released an open source version of Swift that will allow developers to create variants that run on any operating system. “We want to see Swift go everywhere,” Lattner says. With this kind of flexibility and speed, it will. —C.M.
Streaming TV is going global Lisa Nishimura Vice President, Original Documentaries and Comedy | Netﬂix
The whole world loves to binge-watch TV. That’s what Lisa Nishimura discovered while helping transform Netﬂix into a global streaming megastation. And people everywhere will watch good documentaries, if they’re available. ¶ Nishimura started out buying Scandinavian horror ﬁlms and Japanese anime for Netﬂix back when it was known for its DVDs. Today she might pick up a ﬁlm at Sundance or work with a ﬁlmmaker on a project—whatever it takes to build a library of nonﬁction features, docuseries, and stand-up specials that, ideally, translate internationally. ¶ It’s working. Nishimura helped develop What Happened, Miss Simone? as well as ultra-bingey series like Making a Murderer. She looks for projects that simply appeal to her, but her team also uses data on what we’ve watched to decide what we’d like to watch. ¶ And she’s ensuring that Netﬂix’s original offerings aren’t US-centric. Which means, since shows hit at the same time around the world, the tastes of, say, India’s Netﬂix users may well start shaping what you see in your stream. —Julia Greenberg
Augmented reality can be affordable Meron Gribetz Founder & CEO | Meta
Good augmented reality is likely years away. It will be tricky to get the hardware right, and even more difficult to hammer out the technology, experts say, let alone develop awesome content. Meron Gribetz disagrees. After founding his AR company, Meta, in 2012 while studying neuroscience and computer science, he shaped it in Y Combinator’s accelerator program. He used Kickstarter to launch his ﬁrst headset, the Meta 1, which he shipped to developers in 2014.
Earlier this year, Gribetz announced a second version, the Meta 2, which will ship to developers later this year. At $949, it sells for less than a third the price of Microsoft’s HoloLens. Unlike Redmond’s entry, the Meta 2 has to be tethered to a computer to work, but it has a larger ﬁeld of view and offers gestural control. The company has raised just $23 million—far less than either Microsoft or Magic Leap, which has attracted $1.4 billion (see “Hypervision,” page 74). While Meta has designed its own goggles, it is focusing more of its resources on creating superior software. Initial users, Gribetz believes, will be designers, mechanical engineers, and medical professionals—anyone who can benefit from working with enhanced 3-D models. He’s betting that for now, professionals won’t mind the cord if they’re better able to do their work. —Jessi Hempel
DJI PARROT 3DR
Units sold by the top three consumer drone manufacturers
Smart drones won’t need expert pilots Adam Bry Cofounder & CEO | Skydio
You’ve heard of self-driving cars. Now get ready for self-ﬂying drones. Wait, don’t drones already ﬂy themselves? Well, yes and no. Typical off-the-shelf
Psychological proﬁling will help advertisers tailor messages to personality types—like extroverted, agreeable, or neurotic. 0
drones today can ﬂy from place to place based on GPS coordinates. But most don’t truly navigate the air the way self-driving cars navigate the road, reacting in the moment to new obstacles and information. That’s where engineer Adam Bry ﬂies in. After working on Google X’s Project Wing drone delivery program for a year and a half, Bry cofounded Skydio to bring truly autonomous drones to everyone. Companies already use drones for tasks ranging from construction site surveys to windmill inspections to wedding photography. The catch is that they usually need to hire a skilled drone pilot for these jobs. Skydio is working to make ﬂying drones easy for nonexperts. So the company is developing machine learning algorithms that teach drones to “see.” These sensors will help drones not only avoid crashing into buildings, trees, and people but also keep a digital eye on their mission. “It’s the ﬁrst-ever camera that knows what it’s looking at and can move itself,” Bry says. “Whatever you’re doing, it’s like you have a ﬁlm crew with you.” Which will be transformative for the efficacy of drones, if not just a little bit terrifying for humans. —K.F.
Advertising is becoming a Big Data game Alexander Nix CEO | Cambridge Analytica
Alexander Nix wants to turn mad men into psychologists. For too long, he says, demographics and purchasing behavior have been the primary guideposts of the marketing industry, used to guess what a target audience might want. Now Nix’s company, Cambridge Analytica, can provide psychological proﬁling to help advertisers tailor their messages to speciﬁc personality types. The firm groups people according to where they fall on the so-called OCEAN scale, which psychologists use to measure how open, conscientious, extroverted, agreeable, or neurotic they are. Cambridge surveyed hundreds of thousands of people across the US to generate a statistical model to predict these traits in the broader population. Using Cambridge’s data, marketers combine a key trait with generic demographic information and then craft a message that’s more likely to appeal to that type. So for someone who’s neurotic, the message would play to fears about a subject. Agreeable people, on the other hand, gravitate toward information about how a given product or idea will beneﬁt society. Presidential candidate Ted Cruz has been Cambridge’s main client this year, but the ﬁrm also works with automotive, retail, and health care companies. And yet there’s still a fair bit of doubt in marketing circles over whether Cambridge’s methods are effective. That stands to reason. After all, Nix says, “once advertising becomes totally data-driven, advertisers are going to have to build their own data agencies or partner with data agencies. That’s going to be a multibillion-dollar shake-up.” That is, if the ad industry is open enough to make the change. —Issie Lapowsky
CHART SOURCE: LUX RESEARCH, INC.
The battle for global ride-sharing dominance is playing out in China Liu Zhen & Jean Liu Head of Strategy | Uber China
Grab (S.E. Asia)
RIDE SHARING Valuations of carhailing companies around the globe
President | Didi Kuaidi
Liu family gatherings might be awkward. One member of the family, Liu Zhen, is China’s head of strategy for Uber, the world’s biggest ride-hailing company. Her cousin, Jean Liu, is the president of Didi Kuaidi—China’s homegrown ride-hailing contender. Uber might be in more cities worldwide, and its investors may have graced it with a higher price tag (current valuation: $62.5 billion). But to achieve true global dominance, Uber has to win China, a country that has about 750 million potential riders—a number that will only grow as hundreds of millions of Chinese enter the middle class over the next decade. Indeed, of Uber’s top 10 cities by ride volume, ﬁve are in China. Pshaw. Didi Kuaidi is already in more than 400 Chinese cities and towns, and analysts say it has captured 87 percent of China’s private car-hailing market. In other words, even as Uber wants you to believe that it’s the global leader in on-demand rides, it’s lagging behind in the very market that matters most. To compete, Liu Zhen has focused her efforts on introducing features that work well with Chinese culture, such as UberCommute, a commuter-friendly carpooling service for medium-length distances, and the ability for riders to pay using Alipay, China’s most popular online payment service. But Liu Zhen laughs off the idea that there’s any tension. “Family is family; business is business,” she says. “What do you talk with your cousins about? Work? Not really. People talk about their family’s lives, vacations, which schools your kids want to attend.” Pretty normal stuff, even though the fate of the world—OK, the world market for ride-hailing—is at stake. —D.A.
The cloud, not ads, will be Google’s biggest business Diane Greene Senior Vice President, Enterprise | Google
Google is the world’s largest advertising company. In 2015 it pulled in $74.5 billion in revenue, 90 percent of which came from ads on its search engine and online services. But Google’s future may look very different. By 2020, the company has said, the money it makes from cloud computing could eclipse its ad business altogether. If that happens, it’ll likely be because of Diane Greene. See, Google also runs what is probably the largest and most advanced private computing network on the planet, with data centers stretching from Oregon to Finland to Taiwan. In recent years, it has invited businesses and developers to run their own software atop this vast network. That’s cloud
computing. And Google’s cloud belongs to Greene. In the early aughts, Greene made it big with VMware, a company she and her husband bootstrapped from research at Stanford University, the same school that gave birth to Google. The difference was that VMware didn’t offer technology to everyday people. It sold technology to businesses. And that’s what Google must do to ascend to the cloud future of its dreams. —C.M.
Voice is the next interface Xuedong Huang Chief Speech Scientist | Microsoft
Skype Translator, which converts spoken language in real time, and Microsoft’s voice assistant, Cortana, are both the fruit of Xuedong Huang’s efforts. He founded Microsoft’s speech recognition team in 1993, but it’s
CHART SOURCE: (RIDE-SHARING) UBER, NEWS REPORTS; (BITCOIN) BLOCKCHAIN.INFO
Didi Kuaidi (China)
only recently, with advances in machine learning, that the technology has ﬁnally left the realm of science ﬁction. Now Huang is behind a push to make the deep learning that powers these tools available to everyone. Last year Microsoft launched Project Oxford, a set of machine-learning tools that enable developers to create their own programs. One, for example, can recognize a person and verify their identity based on their voice. Another is a tool for turning written text into audio. “Oxford is trying to democratize AI,” Huang says. This sets it apart from other efforts like Google’s open source TensorFlow platform, which only makes artiﬁcial intelligence available to researchers and programmers. More than 3,000 developers have used the Oxford tools so far. Meanwhile, the tech continues to improve. When Huang joined Microsoft, he says, “I never thought a computer would be as accurate as a human.” But he estimates that within two to three years, computers will be as good as people at transcribing telephone conversations. We know a lot of journalists who can hardly wait. —J.h.
Wall Street embraces the blockchain Arvind Krishna Senior Vice President & Director of Research | IBM
Arvind Krishna wants to overhaul Wall Street. And Wall Street is OK with that. Krishna is the head of research at IBM and the driving force behind the Hyperledger, a new twist on the enormously powerful idea that underpins bitcoin. You see, bitcoin isn’t just a digital currency. It’s a global network of independent computers called a blockchain that oversees the storage and exchange of that currency— no bank, government, or any other central authority required. And the blockchain, it turns out, can track not just bitcoin but nearly anything that carries value, including stocks, bonds, futures, mortgages, and car titles.
In other words, it could transform Wall Street. The Hyperledger is a corporatebacked version of the blockchain that would allow Wall Street to embrace this big idea before it makes the biggest names in ﬁnance obsolete. “Once an idea gets out there, you can’t stop it from propagating,” Krishna says. “Only those that embrace it with speed and conviction can take advantage of it.” Financial giants like State Street, JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo, and the London Stock Exchange have gotten behind the Hyperledger, a signal that Wall Street is learning the lesson that Silicon Valley has taught so many other industries over the years: Embracing your biggest threat is the only way to avoid extinction. Krishna is the guy doing the teaching. —C.M.
A gig-economy crackdown is coming Edward Chen US District Judge | US District Court, Northern District of California
Messaging is indispensible David Marcus Vice President, Messaging Products | Facebook
BITCOIN Growth of the blockchain transaction database
40GB 30GB 20GB 10GB 0
people open Messenger each month. Last year, Messenger began testing an AI virtual assistant called M and a feature that lets businesses provide customer service over the app. Marcus’ bet—and that of his boss, Mark Zuckerberg—is that soon people will turn to their messaging apps to do all the things they once did in their web browsers or via other apps. This is already happening in China, where people buy movie tickets, book train travel, and shop, all on WeChat. Marcus will ensure that Messenger comes through this transition a massive winner. —J.H.
Only a couple hundred million people were using Messenger when David Marcus took over in 2014—and many of them were angry that Facebook was going to force them to download a separate app to use the service. Two years later, however, more than 800 million
Many of the companies behind on-demand laundry, cleaning, food-delivery, and ride-hailing services claim that their employees are contractors. Critics say this classiﬁcation lets the Ubers of the world evade costs like workers’ compensation insurance and Social Security and Medicare contributions. Cue the worker misclassiﬁcation lawsuits. Of those that have been ﬁled, a California class action against Uber,
CAPITAL PLATFORMS LIKE AIRBNB & EBAY
LABOR PLATFORMS LIKE UBER & TASKRABBIT
presided over by US District judge Edward Chen, is the furthest along. Chen has set a jury trial for June, and the rulings that come out of his court could have a major impact on the entire on-demand economy. So far, Chen has been tough on Uber. He blocked the company’s attempt to stymie the lawsuit—twice. He has said that one of Uber’s main arguments—that the company is only a softwareplatform provider that connects independent drivers and passengers—hasn’t persuaded him. He certiﬁed the case as a class action so that thousands of drivers in California could join. And in December, Chen ruled that even the drivers who had agreed as part of their contracts to settle disputes in arbitration could join the lawsuit anyway. “I think it’s clear that he’s consistently ruled against Uber on at least the big issues,” says Steven Davidoff Solomon, a law professor at UC Berkeley. “He has pushed this case forward with his rulings.” Solomon does say that the case focuses on California labor laws speciﬁcally, which are generally more protective of employees than those in other states. But unlike decisions by state agencies, the class action carries the
Percent of US adults participating
THE GIG ECONOMY
force of judicial precedent. Depending on the outcome, the on-demand economy may soon be unable to take its business model for granted. —D.A.
Facial-recognition technology is judging us Marni Bartlett & Rana el Kaliouby BARTLETT K A L I O U BY
Independent ﬁlms will ﬂourish on streaming platforms Ted Hope Head of Motion Picture Production and Development | Amazon Studios
As the producer of more than 70 movies, Ted Hope has spent his whole life working on independent ﬁlms. Then, last year, he went corporate, taking a gig at Amazon as head of the company’s studio arm. It kind of makes sense. Today, Hollywood eschews midrange and smaller ﬁlms in favor of big-money blockbusters. So platforms like Amazon, Netﬂix, and Vimeo have swooped in, creating searchable, digital
Cofounder & Lead Scientist | Emotient Cofounder & Chief Strategy and Science Officer | Affectiva
There are two scientiﬁc heavyweights behind a pair of startups attempting to commercialize software that can decipher facial expressions and track emotions. After ﬁnishing up her PhD in computer science at Cambridge University and a postdoc at MIT, Rana el Kaliouby helped found Affectiva, spinning it out of the MIT Media Lab in 2009. Three years later, Marni Bartlett took a leave from UC San Diego, where she’s a research professor in charge of the Computational Face Group of the Machine Perception Laboratory, to help built Emotient. At each company, engineers have built algorithms to decode facial expressions. To train these algorithms, each startup recorded millions of expressions, noting tiny musculature movements that were then sorted by emotions—anger, disgust, joy, surprise, or boredom. The first companies to license this software have been, no surprise, advertisers. Both Honda Motor and Procter & Gamble have tried Emotient to determine how people are reacting to their products. Unilever, Kellogg, and Mars have used webcams equipped with Affectiva’s Affdex software to watch consumers while they’re viewing ads. Apple bought Emotient in January, and the company isn’t revealing its plans for the software. Meanwhile, with more than $20 million in funding, Affectiva has opened its platform to developers and is licensing its software to everyone from game makers to educators. The technology may be similar, but the business approaches couldn’t be more different. —J.H. MAY 2016
Number of Crispr mentions in PubMed-listed publications
Artiﬁcial intelligence is smarter when it’s open source Yann LeCun & Greg Brockman
CHART SOURCE: PUBMED
on-demand spaces for independent ﬁlms. And it seems to be working. After all, you’re probably a lot more likely to take a chance on an indie when you land on Amazon Prime than when you’re paying $15 for a ticket in theaters and even more for a sitter. So far this year, Amazon has thrown its weight and money behind lesserknown ﬁlmmakers by picking up four titles at Sundance. (The company offers those and other originals to Amazon Prime subscribers, so for $99 you get free shipping and free indie ﬂicks.) It plans to produce 12 to 14 ﬁlms a year—all of which will screen ﬁrst in theaters. Amazon is taking ambitious risks at a time when Hollywood is being cautious. If Hope has his way, you may discover
Facebook’s deep neural networks mimic the millions of interconnected neurons in the human brain. 0
the next Little Miss Sunshine amid the books, diapers, and gadgets in your shopping cart. —J.G.
Gene editing will be a massive business Rachel Haurwitz President & CEO | Caribou Biosciences
Rachel Haurwitz began grad school in 2007 studying an obscure corner of science: a bacterial immune system called Crispr. By the time she got her UC Berkeley PhD in 2012, Crispr had turned into the biggest development in biotech, a gene-editing tool with unlimited potential. Haurwitz had shifted gears too. Along with her doctoral adviser, Jennifer Doudna, and other Berkeley scientists, she cofounded Caribou Biosciences to ﬁnd commercial applications for the technology, whether it’s modifying crops for drought resistance or immune cells
Director of AI Research | Facebook
CTO | OpenAI
The world’s most powerful tech companies are racing to create machines that think like humans. But rather than hide their advances from rivals, the brightest minds in artiﬁcial intelligence are taking a counterintuitive approach: They’re giving away their secrets. Yann LeCun, head of AI research at Facebook, is the prime mover behind the company’s deep neural networks—webs of hardware and software that mimic the interconnected neurons in the brain. Facebook uses neural nets to identify who’s in your photos and what goes into your News Feed. Eventually, some researchers believe, neural nets might even achieve something like common sense. LeCun says a technology this powerful doesn’t evolve in isolation. “We make progress in AI right now through an open process,” he says. “When you do research in secret, you fall behind.” Last fall, Facebook backed up those words when it gave away designs for the hardware that runs its AI. Google did the same with its AI software. These companies still keep some of their work to themselves. But a new outﬁt called OpenAI, backed by Tesla and SpaceX founder Elon Musk, is taking openness a step further: Under the guidance of CTO Greg Brockman, it’s giving away almost all its research. OpenAI’s mission has helped it snatch top talent from Google and Facebook. “If you’re doing research, you need really good people around you,” Brockman says. Companies, including Musk’s, will be able to use OpenAI’s findings to further their own goals. But that suits OpenAI: Behind its openness is an anxiety that a toosmart AI in private hands could ﬁnd a way to unleash itself on the world for malicious ends. Getting the most sophisticated AI possible in as many hands as possible, Brockman and company believe, is humanity’s best chance at preventing an AI apocalypse. —C.M.
Inequality is everyone’s problem Erica Baker Engineer | Slack
for cancer therapy. If someone had predicted her project would turn into a hot startup, Haurwitz says, “I would have laughed pretty hard.” Last year investors poured hundreds of millions into several Crispr startups. This year those companies are really duking it out for market share. On top of that, Caribou and its chief rival, Editas Medicine, have licensed competing patents that are in dispute before the US Patent and Trademark Office. But the reward of being the ﬁrst to commercialize Crispr is so great, there’s no time to waste. — S.Z.
India is the new startup machine Nikesh Arora President & COO | SoftBank
Though more people are currently using smartphones in India than in the US, ecommerce there is just
Number of mobile phone users
400M 200M 0
getting started. So SoftBank president and chief operating officer Nikesh Arora decided to invest heavily in the country where he grew up. “The youth of Asia are all going to demand more access to goods and services,” he says. “So there’s a new opportunity to develop businesses.” A year after he arrived at SoftBank to help founder Masayoshi Son transform the Japanese telecom by investing aggressively in international businesses, Arora has sunk more than $1 billion into Indian startups. His investments include OlaCabs, Snapdeal, and Oyo Rooms— ventures contending to be the Uber, Amazon, and Airbnb of India, respectively. (He’s also invested $1 billion in Korean ecommerce company Coupang.) “It’s not hard to understand that 10 years from now, ecommerce will play a signiﬁcant role in people’s consumption habits.” Arora believes SoftBank can be more helpful to startups than other investors
because he has recruited a team of 15 people with experience building companies—just like him. After emigrating to the US for business school, Arora began his career in ﬁnance. He arrived at Google in 2004, just after the company’s IPO, to build its European sales office. Arora helped Google grow into a 55,000-person global company, and he rose quickly to become its chief business officer before joining SoftBank. He knows how to run an Internet business, and that savvy will help foster a new wave of Asian entrepreneurs. —J.H.
CHART SOURCE: TELECOM REGULATORY AUTHORITY OF INDIA
Early last year, Erica Baker circulated a spreadsheet of salaries at Google, where she worked as an engineer. It showed discrepancies that were, as she said at the time, “not great.” In response, her manager blocked multiple bonuses that her colleagues tried to get for her. Baker eventually went to work for Slack, but her action had the desired effect: Many Googlers used the data in the spreadsheet to ask for—and get—fair pay. ¶ Baker continues to be open about inequities in tech, and she wants everyone else to start talking. “I want the people who claim to be allies to speak up,” she says. “Women and people of color didn’t create this diversity problem, yet we’re being tasked with ﬁxing it.” Too many companies are focused on improving diversity numbers, Baker says, and are less concerned with creating an inclusive culture. She’s living proof that it’s not only OK to speak out but important to join this new generation of workers unafraid to tell their employers, “That’s not good enough.” —D.A.
FEATURES | 24.05
Magic Leap and the Future of VR 74 | SFMOMAâ€™s Ultramodern Update 88 | Ukrainian Cybercrime 92 | Cash-Free Sweden 102 andy gilmore
The world’s hottest startup isn’t located in Silicon Valley— it’s in suburban Florida.
explores what Magic Leap’s mind-bending technology tells us about the future of virtual reality.
it’s really there, in that ordinary office. It is a virtual object, but there is no evidence of pixels or digital artifacts in its three-dimensional fullness. If I reposition my head just so, I can get the virtual drone to line up in front of a bright office lamp and perceive that it is faintly transparent, but that hint does not impede the strong sense of it being present. This, of course, is one of the great promises of artificial reality—either you get teleported to magical places or magical things get teleported to you. And in this prototype headset, created by the much speculated about, ultrasecretive company called Magic Leap, this alien drone certainly does seem to be transported to this office in Florida—and its reality is stronger than I thought possible. I saw other things with these magical goggles. I saw human-sized robots walk through the actual walls of the room. I could shoot them with power blasts from a prop gun I really held in my hands. I watched miniature humans wrestle each other on a real tabletop, almost like a Star Wars holographic chess game. These tiny people were obviously not real, despite their photographic realism, but they were really present—in a way that didn’t seem to reside in my eyes alone; I almost felt their presence. Virtual reality overlaid on the real world in this manner is called mixed reality, or MR. (The goggles are semitransparent, allowing you to see your actual surroundings.) It is more difficult to achieve than the classic fully immersive virtual reality, or VR, where all you see are synthetic images, and in many ways MR is the more powerful of the two technologies. Magic Leap is not the only company creating mixed-reality technology, but right now the quality of its virtual visions exceeds all others. Because of this lead, money is pouring into this Florida office park. Google was one of the first to invest. Andreessen Horowitz, Kleiner Perkins, and others followed. In the past year, executives from most major media and tech companies have made the pilgrimage to Magic Leap’s office park to experience for themselves its futuristic synthetic reality. At the beginning of this year, the company completed what may be the largest C-round of financing in history: $793.5 million. To date, investors have funneled $1.4 billion into it. That astounding sum is espeThere is something special happening in a generic office park in an uninspiring suburb near cially noteworthy because Magic Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Inside, amid the low gray cubicles, clustered desks, and empty swivel Leap has not released a beta verchairs, an impossible 8-inch robot drone from an alien planet hovers chest-high in front of a row sion of its product, not even to of potted plants. It is steampunk-cute, minutely detailed. I can walk around it and examine it from developers. Aside from potenany angle. I can squat to look at its ornate underside. Bending closer, I bring my face to within tial investors and advisers, few inches of it to inspect its tiny pipes and protruding armatures. I can see polishing swirls where the people have been allowed to see metallic surface was “milled.” When I raise a hand, it approaches and extends a glowing appendthe gear in action, and the comage to touch my fingertip. I reach out and move it around. I step back across the room to view it bination of funding and mystery from afar. All the while it hums and slowly rotates above a desk. It looks as real as the lamps and has fueled rampant curiosity. computer monitors around it. It’s not. I’m seeing all this through a synthetic-reality headset. But to really understand what’s Intellectually, I know this drone is an elaborate simulation, but as far as my eyes are concerned
Rony Abovitz displaying Magic Leap’s mysterious photonic lightfield chip in March of this year.
happening at Magic Leap, you need to also understand the tidal wave surging through the entire tech industry. All the major players—Facebook, Google, Apple, Amazon, Microsoft, Sony, Samsung—have whole groups dedicated to artificial reality, and they’re hiring more engineers daily. Facebook alone has over 400 people working on VR. Then there are some 230 other companies, such as Meta, the Void, Atheer, Lytro, and 8i, working furiously on hardware and content for this new platform. To fully appreciate Magic Leap’s gravitational pull, you really must see this emerging industry—every virtual-reality and mixed-reality headset, every VR camera technique, all the novel VR applications, beta-version VR games, every prototype VR social world. Like I did—over the past five months. Then you will understand just how fundamental virtual reality technology will be, and
why businesses like Magic Leap have an opportunity to become some of the largest companies ever created.
Even if you’ve never tried virtual reality, you probably possess a vivid expectation of what it will be like. It’s the Matrix, a reality of such convincing verisimilitude that you can’t tell if it’s fake. It will be the Metaverse in Neal Ste-
phenson’s rollicking 1992 novel, Snow Crash, an urban reality so enticing that some people never leave it. It will be the Oasis in the 2011 best- selling story Ready Player One, a vast planet-scale virtual reality that is the center of school and work. VR has been so fully imagined for so long, in fact, that it seems overdue. I first put my head into virtual reality in 1989. Before even the web existed, I visited an office in Northern California whose walls were cov-
ered with neoprene surfing suits embroidered with wires, large gloves festooned with electronic components, and rows of modified swimming goggles. My host, Jaron Lanier, sporting shoulder-length blond dreadlocks, handed me a black glove and placed a set of homemade goggles secured by a web of straps onto my head. The next moment I was in an entirely different place. It was an airy, cartoony block world, not unlike the Minecraft universe. There was another avatar sharing this small world (the size of a large room) with me—Lanier. We explored this magical artificial landscape together, which Lanier had created just hours before. Our gloved hands could pick up and move virtual objects. It was Lanier who named this new experience “virtual reality.” It felt unbelievably real. In that short visit I knew I had seen the future. The following year I organized the first public hands-on exhibit (called Cyberthon),
which premiered two dozen experimental VR systems from the US military, universities, and Silicon Valley. For 24 hours in 1990, anyone who bought a ticket could try virtual reality. The quality of the VR experience at that time was primitive but still pretty good. All the key elements were there: head-mounted display, glove tracking, multiperson social immersion. But the arrival of mass-market VR wasn’t imminent. The gear cost many scores of thousands of dollars. Over the following decades, inventors were able to improve the quality, but they were unable to lower the cost.
Twenty-five years later a most unlikely savior emerged—the smartphone! Its runaway global success drove the quality of tiny hi-res screens way up and their cost way down. Gyroscopes and motion sensors embedded in phones could be borrowed by VR displays to track head, hand, and body positions for pennies. And the processing power of a modern phone’s chip was equal to an old supercomputer, streaming movies on the tiny screen with ease. The cheap ubiquity of screens and chips allowed a teenage Palmer Luckey to gaffer-tape together his first VR headset prototypes, launching a Kickstarter
campaign for the Oculus Rift in 2012. And the Rift was the starting signal that many entrepreneurs were waiting for. (Facebook bought the company for $2 billion in 2014.) All of today’s head-mounted VR displays are built out of this cheap phone technology. Put on almost any synthetic-reality display and you enter a world born of billions of phones. Lanier, who has contributed to Microsoft’s HoloLens MR system, estimates it would have cost more than $1 million in 1990 to achieve the results that even simple phone-inserted headsets like the Samsung Gear or Google Cardboard do today.
One of the first things I learned from my recent tour of the syntheticreality waterfront is that virtual reality is creating the next evolution of the Internet. Today the Internet is a network of information. It contains 60 trillion web pages, remembers 4 zettabytes of data, transmits millions of emails per second, all interconnected by sextillions of transistors. Our lives and work run on this internet of information. But what we are building with artificial reality is an internet of experiences. What you share in VR or MR gear is an experience. What you encounter when you open a magic window in your living room is an experience. What you join in a mixed-reality teleconference is an experience. To a remarkable degree,
all these technologically enabled experiences will rapidly intersect and inform one another. The recurring discovery I made in each virtual world I entered was that although every one of these environments was fake, the experiences I had in them were genuine. VR does two important things: One, it generates an intense and convincing sense of what is generally called presence. Virtual landscapes, virtual objects, and virtual characters seem to be there—a perception that is not so much a visual illusion as a gut feeling. That’s magical. But the second thing it does is more important. The technology forces you to be present—in a way flatscreens do not—so that you gain authentic experiences, as authentic as in real life. People remember VR experiences not as a memory of something they saw but as something that happened to them. Experience is the new currency in VR and MR. Technologies like Magic Leap’s will enable us to generate, transmit, quantify, refine, personalize, magnify, discover, share, reshare, and overshare experiences. This shift from the creation, transmission, and consumption of information to the creation, transmission, and consumption of experience defines this new platform. As Magic Leap founder Rony Abovitz puts it, “Ours is a journey of inner space. We are building the internet of presence and experience.” We haven’t yet fully absorbed the enormous benefit that the internet of information has brought to the world. And yet we are about to
recapitulate this accomplishment with the advent of synthetic realities. With a VR platform we will create a Wikipedia of experiences, potentially available to anyone, anywhere, anytime. Travel experiences—terror at the edge of an erupting volcano, wonder at a walking tour of the pyramids—once the luxury of the rich (like books in the old days), will be accessible to anyone with a VR rig. Or experiences to be shared: marching with protesters in Iran; dancing with revelers in Malawi; how about switching genders? Experiences that no humans have had: exploring Mars; living as a lobster; experiencing a close-up of your own beating heart, live. You’ve seen a lot of this in movies and on TV or read about it in books. But you haven’t experienced it, felt it below your intellect, had it lodge in your being in a way that you can call your own. Kent Bye, founder of the podcast Voices of VR, has conducted over 400 interviews with the people creating VR and has seen almost every possible prototype of VR there is. “VR talks to our subconscious mind like no other media,” he says.
The most intense and complete sense of subconscious presence that I experienced occurred with a system called the Void, which debuted at the 2016 TED conference. The Void isn’t as
advanced as Magic Leap technologically, but it integrates the best off-the-shelf parts available with custom gear to create an unforgettable experience. For several hours I watched a line of people enter the Void. Almost every person squealed with delight, screamed, laughed, and staggered away asking for more. I felt the same; I’d be happy to pay for an hour’s visit. The Void grew out of stage magic, a theme park, and a haunted house. Every year, Ken Bretschneider, one of the three cofounders, stages a gonzo haunted house in Utah that draws 10,000 people in two days. It occurred to him that he could amplify the interactions of his house with VR. Curtis Hickman, the second cofounder, is a professional illusionist, designed tricks for big-name magicians, and is also a visual-effects producer. The third, James Jensen, started out developing special effects for ﬁlm and unique experiences for theme parks. He came up with the idea of layering VR over a physical playground. The common factor among the three was their realization that VR was a new way to trick the mind into believing something imaginary is real. The Void takes place in a large room. You wear a 12-pound vest that carries batteries, a processor board, and 22 haptic patches that vibrate and shake you at the right moments. Your headset or goggles and earphones are connected to your vest, so you’re free to roam without a
Virtual, mixed, augmented—that’s a lot of reality. Here’s how to keep it all straight. —BLANCA MYERS
Virtual Reality VR places the user in another location entirely. Whether that location is computer-generated or captured by video, it entirely occludes the user’s natural surroundings.
Augmented Reality In augmented reality—like Google Glass or the Yelp app’s Monocle feature on mobile devices—the visible natural world is overlaid with a layer of digital content.
Mixed Reality In technologies like Magic Leap’s, virtual objects are integrated into—and responsive to—the natural world. A virtual ball under your desk, for example, would be blocked from view unless you bent down to look at it. In theory, MR could become VR in a dark room.
cord. Untethered, you’re released from worrying about tripping over a cable or tangling or straying too far. That relief heightens the effect of being present in the VR. Inside, you navigate an Indiana Jones–like adventure that seems to take place over a large territory. The illusion of unbounded space, or, as Hickman describes it, “a magical space bigger inside than it is outside,” is achieved by a trick called redirected walking. As an example, whenever you turn 90 degrees in the room your VR will show you the room turning only 80 degrees. You don’t notice the difference, but the VR accumulates those small 10-degree cheats on each turn until it redirects your route away from a wall or even gets you to walk in a circle while making you think you’ve walked a mile in a straight line. Redirected touching does a similar trick. A room could contain one real block but display three virtual blocks on a shelf—blocks A, B, and C. You see your hand grab block B, but the VR system will direct your hand to touch the only real block in the room. You can replace block B and pick up block C, but in reality you’re picking up the same real block. It’s astounding how those tiny misdirections fool your gut into believing that what you’re seeing is real. Stairs can be made to feel endless if they drop down as you walk upward. In fact, at one point in the Void a decaying ﬂoor collapses while you’re walking across it, and you see, hear, and feel—in all your body—a plunge down to the ﬂoor below. But in fact the real ﬂoor only sinks 6 inches. You can easily imagine a room 60 by 60 feet packed with a minimal set of elemental shapes, ramps, and seats, all recycled and redirected for a variety of multihour adventures. Seeing, it turns out, is not believing. We use all our senses to gauge reality. Most of the high-end VR rigs on sale this year include dynamic binaural—that is, 3-D—audio. This is more than just stereo, which is ﬁxed in space. To be persuasive, the apparent location of a sound needs to shift as you move your head. Deep presence includes the sensations of motion from your inner ear; if the two are out of sync with what you see, you get motion sickness. Good VR also includes touch. Jason Jerald, a professor at the Waterford Institute of Technology who wrote the book on VR (called The VR Book), claims that much of our sense of presence in VR comes from our hands. Gloves are still not consumer-ready, so hardware makers are using simple controllers with a few easily operated buttons. When you wave them, their positions are tracked, so you can manipulate virtual objects. As primitive as these stick-hands are, they double the sense of being present. Touch, vision, and sound form the essential trinity of VR. wired senior maverick KEVIN KELLY (kk@ kk.org) is the author of the upcoming book The Inevitable, to be published in June.
ILLUSTRATIONS BY JASON LEE
Engineer Eric Browy working in the Magic Leap optics lab.
the mind of an engineer. As it happens, though, good virtuality takes both fantasy and physics. Abovitz is heavyset, bespectacled, and usually smiling. He is warm and casual, at ease with himself. But he vibrates. He hums with ideas. Overflowing. One idea unleashes two more. He whips his large head around as he speaks, sweeping up more ideas. It’s hard for him to throttle their escape, to slow down how fast they issue from his brain. As in his cartoons, a discussion can leap almost anywhere. Most of his ideas seem to combine physics and biology. In his Twitter bio, Abovitz describes himself as a “friend of people, animals, and robots,” which is pretty accurate. In his conversation and his While Magic Leap has yet to achieve the immersion of the Void, it is still, by far, work he exhibits a rare sensitivthe most impressive on the visual front—the best at creating the illusion that virity to both the logic of machines tual objects truly exist. The founder of Magic Leap, Rony Abovitz, is the perfect misand the soul of biology. If you’re ﬁt to invent this superpower. As a kid growing up in South Florida, he was enthralled making robot arms that help by science fiction and robots. He gravitated toward robots as a career and got a human doctors carve into livdegree in biomedical engineering from the University of Miami. While still a grad ing ﬂesh, you have to obey the student, he started a company that built robots for surgery. Before the company laws of physics, the laws of biolgot off the ground, his only income was $30 a week drawing cartoons for his college ogy, and the minds of humans. newspaper. Most people find Abovitz’s cartoons more weird than funny. They are Abovitz has a knack for all three stream-of-consciousness doodles featuring alien creatures, annotated by tiny inscriprealms, and his surgery robots tions that include secret messages to girlfriends. They do not appear to come from
Magic Leap’s user experience team creates guides to new universes.
sold well. In 2008 his company, Mako, went public. It was sold in 2013 for $1.65 billion. That success sparked a new idea. Could you make a virtual knee good enough to help repair a real knee? Could you augment a knee operation with an overlay of a virtual knee? Abovitz began thinking about the technology that could match virtual worlds with complex real-life surgery. At the same time he began to create a graphic novel. Abovitz has a deep love of science fiction, and he invented a whole world on another planet— flying whales, men in dragonfly gear, a young girl with a pet monkey-bat, and an invading army of robots. Flush with cash from his robotics company, he hired Weta Workshop, the New Zealand special-effects house co-owned by movie director Peter Jackson, to create a detailed realization of that world. The Weta team created all the props and practical effects for The Lord of the Rings, and they helped invent the culture of the Na’vi in Avatar. For Abovitz they designed his world, called Hour Blue, and filled in the details of flying whales and monkey-bats. It quickly mutated from graphic novel into virtualreality precursor. Because what alien world would not be better experienced in immersive 3-D? Abovitz was already pioneering MR for doctors; this would be an extension of his ideas.
The company Abovitz set up to develop this immersive world was Magic Leap. Its logo would be his totem animal, the leaping whale. The hardware to create the MR would have to be invented. By this time, 2012, the Oculus Kickstarter campaign had launched, and other prototypes with similar phone-based technology were in the works. Here Abovitz deviated off the main path. Because of his work in biomedicine, he realized that VR is the most advanced technology in the world where humans are still an integral part of the hardware. To function properly, VR and MR must use biological circuits as well as silicon chips. The sense of presence you feel in these headsets is created not by the screen but by your neurology. Tricks like redirected walking operate in our brain as much as in the Nvidia processor. Abovitz saw artificial reality as a symbiont technology, part machine, part flesh. “I realized that if you give the mind and body what they want, they’ll give you back much more,” he says. Artificial reality exploits peculiarities in our senses. It effectively hacks the human brain in dozens of ways to create what can be called a chain of persuasion. In a movie, our brains perceive real motion in a sequence of absolutely still images. In the same way, you can scan a blue whale from many angles and then render it as a 3-D volumetric image that can be displayed
A GAGGLE OF GOGGLES Facebook
In 2014, Facebook bought Oculus, the company that dreamed up the Rift headset and (literally) kick-started the VR revolution. Now
The Taiwanese phone manufacturer teamed up with game maker Valve Software to launch a high-end headset, the HTC Vive. Now
As virtual (and mixed) technology improves—and as companies start smelling profits— everyone from phone manufacturers to tech giants is getting into the game. Here’s the hardware that VR’s and MR’s biggest players are cooking up. —chelsea leu
Unlike the Rift and the Vive, Sony’s PlayStation VR is designed to work not with a PC but its own game console—which more than 36 million already own. October 2016
on a headset screen and viewed from any position. Even if we know the object isn’t real—say it’s Godzilla instead of a whale—we feel subconsciously that its presence is real. But if even one small thing is misaligned, that discrepancy can break the gut-level illusion of presence. Something as simple as having to worry about tripping over a tethering cable can seed our unconsciousness with doubt. It might look like it’s there, but it won’t feel there. Following his hunch to exploit human biology, Abovitz set off to make an artificial-reality display in a more symbiont way. The phonelike screens used in the majority of head-mounted displays created a nagging problem: They were placed right next to your eyeballs. If the device is generating the illusion of a blue whale 100 feet away, your eyes should be focused 100 feet away. But they’re not; they’re focused on the tiny screen an inch away. Likewise, when you look at a virtual jellyfish floating 6 inches from your face, your eyes are not crossed as they would be in real life but staring straight ahead. No one is conscious of this optical mismatch, but over long use the subconscious misalignment may contribute to frequently reported discomfort and weaken the chain of persuasion. Magic Leap’s solution is an optical system that creates the illusion of depth in such a way that your eyes focus far for far things, and near for near, and will converge or diverge at the correct distances. In trying out Magic Leap’s prototype, I found that it worked amazingly well close up, within arm’s reach, which was not true of many of the other mixed- and virtual-reality systems I used. I also found that the transition back to the real world while removing the Magic Leap’s optics was effortless, as comfortable as slipping off sunglasses, which I also did not experience in other systems. It felt natural. Magic Leap’s competition is formidable. Microsoft is now selling development versions of its mixed-reality visor called the HoloLens. The technology is unique (so far) in that the entire contraption—processor, optics, and battery— is contained in the visor; it is truly untethered. Meta, another startup, has released an MR device
Google created Cardboard, its cheap assemble-it-yourself viewer, to bring virtual reality to the masses via their smartphones. Now
The Gear VR straps a Galaxy smartphone (new models only) to your head to deliver games and apps—all powered by Oculus software. Now
An open source platform for VR and MR launched in 2015 and backed by a consortium of companies like Intel and gaming outfit Razer. Dev kit available
that began, like Oculus, with a Kickstarter campaign. The headset is tethered to a computer, and dev kits should hit the market this fall—likely well before Magic Leap. All three major MR headsets rely on images that are projected edgeways onto a semitransparent material—usually glass with a coating of nanoscale ridges. The user sees the outside world through the glass, while the virtual elements are projected from a light source at the edge of the glass and then reflected into the user’s eyes by the beam-splitting nano-ridges. Magic Leap claims that its device is unique in the way it beams light into the eye, though the company declines to explain it further at this time. However Magic Leap works, its advantage is that pixels disappear. Most screen-based, headmounted VR displays exhibit a faint “screen door” effect that comes from a visible grid of pixels. Magic Leap’s virtual images, by contrast, are smooth and incredibly realistic. But in truth, the quality of displays in all alternative-reality gear—VR and MR alike—is improving rapidly. Month by month the resolution of all visors increases, the frame rate jumps, the dynamic range deepens, and the color space widens. Within two decades, when you look into a stateof-the-art virtual-reality display, your eye will be fooled into thinking you’re looking through a real window into a real world. It’ll be as bright and crisp as what you see out your window. Once this small display perfects realism, it becomes the one display to rule them all. If a near-eye screen offers sufficient resolution, brightness, breadth, and color richness, it can display any number of virtual screens, of any size, inside it. While I was wearing the photonic spectacles of Magic Leap, I watched an HD movie on a virtual movie screen. It looked as bright and crisp as my 55-inch TV at home. With Microsoft’s HoloLens on, I watched a live football game on a virtual screen hovering next to a web browser window, alongside a few other virtual screens. I could fill my office with as many screens as I wanted, as big (or small) as I desired. I could click for a screen overlaid anywhere in the real world.
Two robots, Click and Clack, test and calibrate prototype hardware.
VR HACKS THE BRAIN IN DOZENS OF WAYS One of Microsoft’s ambitions for the HoloLens is to replace all the various screens in a typical office with wearable devices. The company’s demos envision workers moving virtual screens around or clicking to be teleported to a 3-D conference room with a dozen coworkers who live in different cities. I found virtual screens and virtual media within a virtual reality surprisingly natural and practical. At Magic Leap, the development team will soon abandon
Cupertino has acquired VR-related companies and patented an iPhonecompatible headset— but hasn’t announced anything yet. N/A
This startup proposes to use eye tracking to sharpen what you focus on and blur everything else, cutting down on processing power. Fall 2016
The company’s HoloLens is a wireless, wearable, sensor-packed computer that aggregates its data to embed holograms in the user’s environment. Dev kit available
Initially funded via Kickstarter in 2013, the startup has created a visor that projects virtual interactive displays in the wearer’s field of vision. Dev kit, fall 2016
desktop screens altogether in favor of virtual displays. Meron Gribetz, founder of Meta, says that its new Meta 2 mixed-reality glasses will replace monitors in his company of 100 employees within a year. It’s no great leap to imagine such glasses also replacing the small screens we all keep in our pockets. In other words, this is a technology that can simultaneously upend desktop PCs, laptops, and phones. No wonder Apple, Samsung, and everyone else is paying attention. This is what disruption on a vast scale looks like.
Peter Jackson agrees. The director strides into a bright sunny room in his film studio outside of Wellington, New Zealand. Dressed in shorts, he looks like a hobbit who has escaped the makeup department down the street. He is short and round with a bulbous nose, his head wreathed in unruly hobbit hair. His bare feet are large and hairy. Jackson says he is less than excited with making movies these days; not the content but the process. He sees artificial reality as virgin territory for telling stories and creating new
worlds. Jackson serves on an advisory panel for Magic Leap, and his company will produce content for the new gear. “This mixed reality is not an extension of 3-D movies. It’s something completely different,” he says. “Once you can create the illusion of solid objects anywhere you want, you create new entertainment opportunities.” Jackson has been inspired by working with early prototypes of the Magic Leap glasses. “I find mixed reality much more exciting than VR,” he says. “Mixed reality doesn’t take you out of this world. Instead it adds elements to our real world. And it has great flexibility. You can add as little as you want—a single tiny figure on this tabletop talking to us—or you can replace the walls of this room with a skyscape so we’re sitting here watching clouds float by. If you have your Magic Leap glasses on, you can look up at the Empire State Building and watch it being built in the early 1930s, floor by floor, but sped up. Maybe while you are walking around the modern streets of Chicago you see gangsters driving past with tommy guns. It could be a form of education, entertainment, and tourism. In 10 years I expect that mixed-reality technology like Magic Leap will be used as much as, if not more than, smartphones.” Jackson is sitting in a plush chair and puts his bare feet up on the coffee table. “Most science fiction films contain some form of what Magic Leap is, whether it’s moving data around with a flick of your finger or a holographic phone call or a 3-D chess game. It’s been in our consciousness for a long time. Like flying cars. But this will probably beat flying cars.” Weta’s master skill is in making imaginary worlds believable (and thrilling) by attending to the details. Blockbuster MR and VR worlds will require the highest level of worldbuilding. The inherent freedom of the audience to move around, to peek at the underside of things, to linger and appreciate the details, means that great effort and skill will be needed to preserve the chain of persuasion for all the things that make up that world. Weta is working with Magic Leap to develop a small virtual world called Dr. Grordbort’s, based on sculpted ray guns. Leading this effort is Richard Taylor, who has been building worlds, often with Jackson, for nearly 30 years. Taylor has been a sculptor all his life. His love of materials—clay, stone, wood, brass, fabrics, glass—is evident throughout his workshop, which is densely crammed with hundreds of indescribably beautiful objects. The move to virtuality is a big step for him. “I was not prepared for the emotional impact of Magic Leap,” he says. “I could not have thought I would crave to be in a world with virtual artifacts and characters. But once I got over the surprise that this really works, I’ve had to rein in my ideas.”
Artificial reality will need world builders like Taylor and Jackson to invent the grammar of VR and MR. It took decades for the grammar of film to evolve. Cinema techniques like the establishing shot, the dissolve, and the close-up all had to be invented and then absorbed until everyone knew what they meant. None of these techniques work very well in virtual reality. It’s already clear that the language of experiences is different from what’s come before. One example: First-person point of view is the default stance for many of the videogame franchises dominating bestseller lists. Among them is Minecraft, which is played by more than 100 million people on the screens of PCs, tablets, and phones. Inside the game you see your hand or a pick. But in the virtual-reality version of Minecraft that Microsoft is building, the experience of holding the pick and chopping the blocks is so immediate and real—even though the blocks are cartoon pixels—that the player’s own presence is greatly amplified. Their sense of being shifts inward. In tests with volunteers, Minecraft developers discovered that performing the same role in VR feels far more intimate than it does in first-person on a flatscreen. We might call this new immersive VR view the “youperson” view, because it’s the position of feeling rather than the position of observing. Researchers found that the you-person view that VR creates is so intense that it’s emotionally taxing. People need a break after an hour. Curiously, if someone stays inside VR but pulls up a virtual flat-screen version of Minecraft and continues playing in the traditional 2-D firstperson view on a virtual monitor (still wearing the VR gear), they will feel more at ease. Once rested enough by playing in first-person mode, they often switch back to the fully immersive VR. The degree of presence can be so strong in VR that you have to tone down the evocation of base
emotions and the depiction of brute force. The usual gore and mayhem of a first-person shooter doesn’t work as well in VR. Exaggerated scenarios that are merely compelling in a flat world can be overwhelming when you’re immersed in them.
All that said, it was not the reality of artificial reality that surprised me most. It was how social it is. The best experiences I had in VR or MR involved at least one other person. More people made it better. In fact, just a few more people made it exponentially better. It’s a network effect: The joy of VR is proportional to the square of the number of people sharing it. That means VR will be the most social medium yet. More social than social media is today. One of my first tests for the quality of virtual reality was something I call the bat-flinch test. If you stood next to someone who was holding a virtual baseball bat and they swung the bat at you, would you duck? Only if you truly believed in it. Otherwise you’d just laugh or maybe wait to see what getting hit “felt” like. You’d never wait to get hit in real life.
But a better test for VR is the poker game test. Do the avatars sitting across from you convey sufficient subtle eye contact, body language, and social presence that you can tell if they’re bluffing? I visited an Oculus demo at Facebook’s campus, and Palmer Luckey, Oculus’ creator, joined in. We shared a virtual playground. In real life, Luckey is exuberant. He likes to bounce. He pumps his arms, not just his hands, as he speaks. That body language crossed over into VR. Even though our avatars did not map our outside visual features, Luckey’s avatar—a ghostly blue head and two ghostly hands—moved just like him. He was playfully throwing blocks at me. They passed the bat-flinch test because I was ducking. Luckey was an expert in lighting virtual firecrackers and fireworks and tossing them my way too. Their explosions were real enough that I needed to back away. His enthusiasm was contagious, so I tried to blow him up with a blaster, but I missed and knocked down a tower. While the physics of this demo, called Toybox, were remarkable— things bounced or collided with amazing verisimilitude—the toys felt real in large part because we could pass them around, share them, and collaborate on moving them. My experience was not with toys but with another person. “Our goal is to make virtual communication even better than real-world communication,” Luckey said. “VR is the only thing that will get us there.” The time is coming when, if someone says “let’s meet,” everyone will know that means let’s meet in VR. The default mode of VR is “together.”
Very soon, perhaps in five years, the bounded worlds within virtual reality will begin to be networked together into distributed virtual worlds. When you’re wearing the visor of an augmentedor mixed-reality system such as Magic Leap, HoloLens, or Meta, it maps the local environment. To make, say, a virtual teacup appear on your real table, it needs to know where your table is. The visor uses outward-facing cameras and sensors to scan your environment to create this map. Magic Leap (among others) is working on protocols that save a mapped place in the cloud so it doesn’t have to be remapped for each encounter. Your unit (or perhaps another unit in the same location) merely needs to register and update any changes in the space. This in turn will let you share virtual objects across different surroundings, even if participants are in distant places. Someone in Barcelona can drop a virtual flower into your virtual vase in Chicago. Because artificial reality is inherently social, its environments will be inherently social and networked. That’s not to say this will be easy. Don’t let the relatively portable size of VR and MR wearables fool you. As they get smaller and lighter (and they will), the infrastructure behind them must
grow larger and larger. The scale of the servers, bandwidth, processing, storage, and cleverness required to run networked virtual places at the scale of the planet for billions of people is beyond Big Data. It is Ginormous Data. Which raises another issue. One of the underappreciated aspects of synthetic reality is that every virtual world is potentially a total surveillance state. By definition, everything inside a VR or MR world is tracked. After all, the more precisely and comprehensively your body and your behavior are tracked, the better your experience will be. During a virtual journey, whether it lasts two minutes or two hours, the things your gaze lingers on, the places you choose to visit, how you interact with others and in what mood could all be captured in great detail to customize the experiences to your preferences and tendencies. But many other uses for this data are also obvious. This comprehensive tracking of your behavior inside these worlds could be used to sell you things, to redirect your attention, to compile a history of your interests, to persuade you subliminally, to quantify your actions for selfimprovement, to personalize the next scene, and
so on. If a smartphone is a surveillance device we voluntarily carry in our pocket, then VR will be a total surveillance state we voluntarily enter. As far as I can tell, there are no VR systems that currently store the data they track or do anything with it beyond the first-order job of creating the world and your avatar. While they’re aware of this potential, they are simply too consumed with getting the virtual worlds to work to bother with exploiting the data feed. Inevitably, however, some will graduate to view this immense trove of personalized data as a commercial treasure. The familiar puzzles of its legal status, who has access to it, what government claims apply, and what can be done with it will occupy us as a society in the near future. It’s very easy to imagine a company that succeeds in dominating the VR universe quickly stockpiling intimate data on not just what you and 3 billion other people favorite but what you do on weekends, what people you pay attention to, what scares you, where you go when you’re tired, how you greet strangers, whether you’re depressed, and a thousand other details. To do that in real life would be expensive and intrusive. To do that in VR will be invisible and cheap.
The creation of global artificial reality is an enormous project, and its adoption will start slowly. In every VR demo I tried in the past few months, I needed assistance to get the gear on and adjust the fit. Most demos required spotters to watch me. There were straps to deal with, cords to trip over, furniture to avoid. The software was glitchy. And too often, the demo required outsiders to suggest that I “turn around and look over there,” because user interfaces are still lame. “Right now VR systems, particularly the tracking, don’t work without constant technical maintenance,” says Jeremy Bailenson, who directs the Virtual Human Interaction Lab at Stanford. “I’ve been running VR for 20 years, and the bane of my existence is driver updates. VR is ready to flourish anywhere it’s worth hiring someone to maintain it.” Some of these problems are the ordinary growing pains of the prototype phase. But
The team uses Beam robots to collaborate … for now.
THE VR WINNERS WILL BECOME THE LARGEST COMPANIES IN HISTORY 0
there are also some fundamental features missing. Chris Dixon, a partner in venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz, who led his company’s early investment in Magic Leap, thinks VR will follow the flywheel effect: sluggish to start, its momentum slowly compounding until it’s nearly unstoppable. “What gives me hope is how good VR is right now,” he says. “Once people experience high-end VR, they’re going to want it. We’ll look back on 2020 as the VR era, but in the next five years I’m bracing for the inevitable trough of disillusionment in the hype cycle.” As the flywheel slowly begins to turn, friction will hinder its rotation. But those friction points should also be viewed as fresh opportunities. These are problems whose solutions will enable many other innovations. Any of the following pain points might be the opening that produces the first VR billionaire:
the dork factor. There’s no getting around the fact that everyone looks like a dork wearing a head-mounted display. It obscures our humanity. The failure of Google Glass was in large part due to the fact that you could not pass the cool test wearing one. Remember the Segway, the stand-up personal transport? If you haven’t ridden a recent version of it, you should; they’re amazing. But even though the scooter really works, it didn’t revolutionize transportation, in part because people looked ridiculous riding it. The form factors of VR and MR have a long way to go before they become culturally invisible. safety. I nearly fell in a recent VR journey because I tried to jump into a pit that wasn’t really there. Oculus weirdly warns its users to “remain seated at all times.” The problem is, if you’re present—really present—in an alternative place, you’re absent from the place your body
is. That’s a recipe for accidents. Mixed reality, where the room you’re actually in remains visible, can diminish the clumsiness between realms but doesn’t eliminate it. Then there is our ignorance of the long-term effects of fooling your mind and body. This is so new we don’t even know yet what questions to ask. We do know that motion sickness is real. Jeremy Bailenson found that approximately one in 30 are susceptible. But what other problems will arise after tens of thousands of hours of use? inadequate interface. At this moment in its development, VR is at the same infant stage as early PCs that required a command-line input. There are no intuitive tools for easy creation. The VR industry is waiting for its Doug Engelbart to invent the equivalent of the mouse. This shortcoming is perhaps the most critical missing piece preventing a rapid takeoff. Without an interface that anyone can grasp in minutes, content can be made only by the truly dedicated. Nearly all of the non-movie VR experiences uploaded to date were created using a computergame engine from either Unity or Unreal (and nearly all VR so far shares a similar videogamey look too). All these first-generation experiences were created with 2-D tools—screen, windows, mouse. But VR cannot reach ubiquity until the tools for VR creation live in VR itself, until VR is bootstrapped from within VR. The first steps toward native tools were announced this spring. Both Unity and Unreal have demo’d a VR version that permits users to make VR in VR. However, to foster a smooth transition, the VR versions of both creation engines import 2-D metaphors (like menus)—the equivalent of a command line—into VR. Still missing is the breakthrough insight that takes advantage of VR’s peculiarities to deal with VR’s complexities. I had an aha moment inside a VR app called Tilt Brush that was purchased by Google. I was using a brush to paint with light in three dimensions. My traces in the air could be thin, thick, flickering, pulsating, solid sheets, of any color. I was inside my creation, moving around with my whole body, working up a sweat. I was sketching a sculpture or sculpting a sketch or architecting a drawing or dancing up a building of light—I don’t know what to call it, but it was the most fun I’ve ever had in VR. And it’s not just for fun. Trials at Google revealed Tilt Brush could be an ideal prototyping tool. In a few minutes, even an untrained person could sketch out a design for a car or the layout of furniture in an office, and you would instantly see it. My aha was that at its root, VR is as much a creation tool as a consumption tool. As much fun as it was to explore VR, it was more fun to make it. For a long time, no one believed amateurs would make their own videos, but that changed when you could easily film a scene by holding up a phone. VR is in line to reduce the barriers to creation even further. Fame awaits the genius who figures out the elegant VR interface for VR creation. The tools would allow you to manipulate CONTINUED ON PAGE 112
SF MOMA The Snøhetta Renovation
After a three-year renovation, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art reopens in May, and the result looks like a slab of glacial ice ﬂoating down Third Street. It’s headed for icon status, and not solely because of the new facade. Craig Dykers, cofounder of Snøhetta, the architecture ﬁrm behind the reboot, stresses that this isn’t just a museum for the traditional patron: “We wanted to open the door to people who have little knowledge of modern art,” he says, “and provide reﬁnement and focus for longtime art enthusiasts.” In other words, this is more than an art repository. It’s a beautifully designed experience, a template for other museums—a mix of ﬂamboyance and subtlety, reverence and playfulness, right down to the perfectly seamless tour guide app. Some of the upgrades, exempliﬁed by the shimmering exterior, smack you in the face. Other technological innovations, like the sensors that monitor the living wall, are subtle, or hidden. Take a sneak peek before the lines start forming.
What You See Illustration by Bryan Christie Design
A Modern Art Update by Rene Chun
SFMOMA’s original staircase was a multilayered tower that blocked some of the light from the oculus above. The redesigned staircase allows natural light to ﬂood the space. Four steel columns—two sunk
in the basement and another pair under the second ﬂoor—keep vertical loads in check, while 19 tons of steel behind the maple walls brace the steps against immense lateral forces.
“This is the only place in the world that offers a bird’seye view of a Serra. It’s such a beautiful perspective.”
—Frish Brandt, president, Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco
Wall of Life
At three stories high and half a block long, the museum’s living wall is one of the largest in the country. “These are the native plants you’d see during a hike up Mount Tamalpais,” wall designer David Brenner explains.
“I like the redwood sorrel and sword fern because that’s the ground cover of California’s redwood forests.” The plants lower the ambient temperature, clean the air, and according to some studies, reduce stress levels.
GROUND FLOOR GALLERY
To ensure that the glass-enclosed ground floor gallery, currently home to Richard Serra’s 213-ton sculpture Sequence, receives the maximum amount of natural light, the window mullions, those sticklike joints between
panes of glass, needed to be as thin as possible. Using torch-cut plate steel instead of extruded aluminum allowed Snøhetta to shrink the width and depth of the mullions by half, allowing more gallery light and street visibility.
Eye-Popping Exterior Inspired by the rippling waters of San Francisco Bay, the facade isn’t just fancy—it’s practical. The fiberglassreinforced panels are lighter than steel and cheaper than concrete. “The use of FRP panels on a building more than four stories tall is unprecedented,” says Andrew Dent, VP of Material ConneXion, a design consultancy. “It paves the way for more sculpturally complex buildings.” Another San Francisco trendsetter.
What You Don’t See 090
This Is Not an Audio Guide
Museums use HVAC systems to keep the air clean, the climate stable, and artworks preserved. But the trade-off is ugly ﬂoor vents. To minimize visual clutter (and drafts), Snøhetta miniaturized the duct outlets
and hid them in the ceiling. “It seems like a minor detail,” architect Jon McNeal says. “But it always came up when we visited other museums. Directors want their gallery ﬂoors to be a blank canvas.”
AIR 1.5" VENT
Most app-based museum tours work like this: Stop at an artwork, tap in a number, wait for the commentary. But SFMOMA’s app was designed to keep your phone in your pocket and your eyes on the art. Co-developed with a company called Detour, it uses your phone’s location-sensing tech to precisely triangulate your position in the museum based on a hi-res virtual map created for the museum by Apple. That way it knows exactly where you are and where you’re going—and adjusts its audio accordingly. SFMOMA’s chief content officer, Chad Coerver, calls the app “a cross between This American Life and the movie Her.” And indeed it cops to its slightly eerie capabilities at the outset. When you ﬁre up the app, the voice of public radio veteran Marianne McCune greets you: “The guides will tell you where to go. They’ll wait for you, because they know where you are too. [awkward pause] Oh, that sounds creepy—it’s not.” The tours themselves, says Keir Winesmith, head of SFMOMA’s digital platforms, can range from “philosophical and emotional” to “hilarious and strange.” If you prefer the latter, select the “This Is Not an Artwork” tour. Actors Martin Starr and Kumail Nanjiani of HBO’s Silicon Valley debate whether Marcel Duchamp’s urinal, a Dada classic, is a stunning masterpiece or merely junk. “Museum Hack” is a Red Bull–paced tour designed for visitors who’d rather be playing GTA V. Or listen to French high-wire walker Philippe Petit muse on Mark Rothko’s troubled relationship with his art: “The more people celebrated his work, the more he became skeptical … Can painting really be transcendent?” If you have more practical needs, a Find the Nearest Bathroom button provides point-to-point audio cues, nudging you in the right direction. It’s an experience that feels immersive and intuitive. And if all that artistic transcendence is too much for you, switch to the “Neighborhood for Art” tour. It takes you out of SFMOMA and into the surrounding area, revealing the museum in the context of the wider world. —R.C.
DIRECTIONAL TRACK LIGHTING
Rows of overhead reﬂectors bounce light from concealed LEDs down onto the artworks, bathing them in a diffuse
and art-enhancing light. Curators can color-control and dim light levels in persnickety 1 percent increments.
C EXTERIOR GLASS INSULATING AIRSPACE
There’s a lot going on inside the new 2.5-inch-thick windows. First there’s something called frit: hundreds of tiny gray dots inkjet-printed onto an
inner layer of glass. Only noticeable up close, these dots keep solar rays from entering the building. Air gaps between other layers provide insu-
lation, and special coatings on yet more layers block damaging UV radiation. The whole stack will reduce energy costs by up to 80 percent.
“We wanted the same acoustic grandeur of a cathedral: solemnity and contemplation.”
—Jon McNeal, Snøhetta architect
The museum’s living wall uses smart tech to keep its 19,000 plants healthy. Hidden sensors monitor irrigation, pH levels, moisture, and whether the system is low on fertigation (horticulture-speak
Excitement over the redesign is expected to signiﬁcantly increase the number of coughing, shuffling, stomping visitors. To reduce
COARSE PLASTER SMOOTH PLASTER
the annoying echo known as “acoustic ﬂutter” on the vast ground ﬂoor, the ceilings are coated with a sound-dampening plaster impregnated with crushed glass beads. Snøhetta also installed special wood panels in the gallery staircases; holes and grooves carved in the wood are where sound waves will go to die.
for nutrients). Relax, green people: Every drop of H20 the gardens use is recycled, much of it from rain and runoff, to comply with California’s stringent water conservation regulations.
MAKSYM IGOR POPOV BECAME THE
FBI’S BEST—AND WORST—WEAPON
IN THE FIGHT
BY KEVIN POULSEN
AGAINST THE EASTERN EUROPEAN
T Y P O G RA P H Y BY M I C H I E L S C H U U R M A N
A CHRONICLE OF CYBERCRIME
Few job opportunities and weak law enforcement after the breakup of the USSR sparked a cybercrime movement. Here’s a timeline of its rise. —K . P.
ne Thursday in January 2001, Maksym Igor Popov, a 20-year-old Ukrainian man, walked nervously through the doors of the United States embassy in London. While Popov could have been mistaken for an exchange student applying for a visa, in truth he was a hacker, part of an Eastern European gang that had been raiding US companies and carrying out extortion and fraud. A wave of such attacks was portending a new kind of cold war, between the US and organized criminals in the former Soviet bloc, and Popov, baby-faced and pudgy, with glasses and a crew cut, was about to become the conflict’s first defector. Four months of phone calls and two prior embassy visits had led Popov to this point. Now he met with an FBI assistant legal attaché to present his passport and make final arrangements. A short time later, he plowed through the wintry cold of Grosvenor Square to a hotel room the embassy had secured for him. He opened both his laptop and the hotel minibar and read his email while downing tiny bottles of whiskey until he passed out. The next day, January 19, 2001, Popov and an FBI escort boarded a TWA flight to the US. Popov was nervous but excited. He’d left behind his parents and everything else familiar to him, but in the US he would be more than a dutiful son and student. Popov was also a wanted man involved in international intrigue, like a character in one of the cyberpunk novels he loved. Now he would reinvent himself by selling his computer security expertise to the government for a decent salary, then transition to an Internet startup and make himself wealthy. When the plane landed, though, it was clear the arrangement was going to work a little differently. The once-friendly FBI agents threw Popov in an isolation room, then returned an hour later with a federal prosecutor, a defense attorney, and a take-it-or-leave-it offer: Popov was going to be their informant, working all day, every day, to lure his crime partners into an FBI trap. If he refused, he’d go to prison. Popov was shocked. He’d been played for a durak—a fool. He was placed under 24-hour guard at an FBI safe house in Fair Lakes, Virginia, and instructed to talk to his friends in Russian chat rooms while the bureau recorded everything. But Popov had some tricks of his own. He pretended to cooperate while using Russian colloquialisms to warn his associates that he’d been conscripted into a US government sting. When agents finally got the logs translated three months later, they angrily pulled Popov from his comfortable safe house and threw him in a small county jail to face charges for his past cybercrimes. Popov armored himself in defiance. “Fuck you,” he said. “You have no idea what you’re dealing with.” But he was scared. Prosecutors around the country were lined up to indict him. There seemed no escape from a future of endless jail cells and anonymous American courtrooms. Except that in a backwater FBI office in Santa Ana, California, an up-and-coming agent named Ernest “E. J.” Hilbert saw that the government needed Popov more than anyone knew. Hilbert recognized that the US was at a crucial moment in com-
puter crime. Throughout the 1990s, hacking had mostly been a recreational sport. But in 2000 the first tremors of change began radiating out of Eastern Europe. The signs were everywhere if you knew to look: the types of websites being hacked, the volume of spam and phishing email, the first uptick in credit card fraud losses after years of reliable decline. Hacking was evolving into a professional and profit-driven enterprise. In 2001, Ukrainian and Russian hackers debuted a website called CarderPlanet that introduced an even more ominous property to the underground: scalability. CarderPlanet was a thieves’ market for buying and selling hacked credit card numbers, passwords, stolen bank accounts, and identities. It featured paid advertising, an eBay-like review system, and an organized message board. For the first time, an aspiring identity thief could source all the raw material for a crime wave on a single site. Thousands of users signed up. Hilbert figured he had a shot at cracking this world. But first he’d have to crack a pissed-off hacker who’d already tricked the FBI once. ax Popov grew up in the 1,000year-old city of Zhytomyr, two hours west of Kiev, at a time when Ukraine was finding its footing in the post-Soviet era. He took to computers early, learning the basics at school on a clunky Ukrainianmade IBM XT clone called a Poisk-I. When he was 15, his father brought home a PC and a modem, and Popov went online. Weaned on cyberpunk fiction and the 1995 movie Hackers, Popov knew two things from the start: He was going to be a computer outlaw, and he was going to make money at it. He found plenty of fellow mercenaries in the Russianspeaking regions of the Internet. In the late 1990s, former Soviet states were as flush with smart young programmers as they were impoverished of high tech career opportunities. Cadres of hackers were bootstrapping their own dotcom gold rush, stealing credit card numbers from US ecommerce sites. Popov wasn’t as technical as many in his cohort, but he had a talent for managing and manipulating people and a gift for language. He began making money by “cashing out” stolen credit card numbers, using nearly flawless English to phone in fraudulent orders to US cell phone and computer retailers. It was a good business for about a year, but the stores eventually grew wary of Eastern European shipping addresses, and the scheme dried up.
J U L –AUG
Popov and a partner steal data from E-Money and Western Union, then attempt to get the companies to pay for “consulting services.”
Ukrainian and Russian hackers launch CarderPlanet, an online marketplace for Eastern European identity thieves.
FBI agent E. J. Hilbert launches operation Ant City, inserting Popov back into the Eastern European underground to spy on growing crime networks.
I L LUST RAT I O N S BY S E Ñ O R SA L M E
U K RA I N I A N H AC K E R M A K SY M P O P OV T U R N E D HIMSELF OVER TO THE AUTHORITIES, ENVISIONING A L I F E I N T H E U. S. AS A S E C U R I T Y E X P E R T.
At the same time, local gangsters learned of Popov’s online scamming and began showing up at his apartment to strong-arm him for cash. Popov decided to try his own hand at extortion. He and his crew would crack a company’s computers and steal customer data, then Popov would contact the company and offer his services as a “security consultant” to keep the intrusions a secret in exchange for money. In July 2000 they cracked E-Money, a now-defunct electronic payment provider based in Washington, DC, and stole credit card data on 38,000 customers. They hit Western Union’s website for another 16,000 customer names, addresses, passwords, and credit
cards. Popov approached the companies and offered to put a stop to the intrusions and bury the stolen data in exchange for consulting fees that ranged from $50,000 to $500,000. The results were inauspicious. E-Money strung him along while secretly calling in the FBI, and Western Union publicly announced the breach, obliterating Popov’s hope for hush money. His efforts amounted to nothing, even as the pressure from neighborhood thugs escalated. Popov felt trapped in Zhytomyr, in his life of middling scams and looming violence. He began contemplating a bold move: turning himself in to the American police. He would
Eastern European hackers breach Data Processing International, affecting 8 million credit cards, which seems like a lot at the time.
Eastern European hackers steal proprietary source code from technology giant EMC and sensitive documents from the FBI.
Russian hackers access payment processor Heartland Payment Systems and steal data on a record 130 million credit cards.
“ T H E D O UG H I S F UC K I N G R E A L ,” P O P OV SA I D I N H I S V I D E O T O L U R E A R U S S I A N H AC K E R . “ S O C A L L YO U R M O B , A N D L ET US S ET T L E T H I S B US I N ESS.”
escape from Ukraine, he figured, and reboot himself as a reformed hacker and computer security expert in the Land of Opportunity. Now he found himself stuck in a St. Louis jail near Western Union’s offices. At least until Agent Hilbert came looking for him. A straitlaced family man with the air of a 1950s sitcom dad, Hilbert looked every inch a Fed, with an earnest gaze and neat brown hair combed into a crisp part. He had walked away from a career as a high school history teacher at the age of 29 to pursue his childhood dream of wearing an FBI badge. His very first case established him as a cybercrime agent, when he linked a com-
puter intrusion at an Anaheim, California, company to a prolific hacker in Russia’s Ural Mountains, then helped engineer a sting that lured the suspect to Seattle so the FBI could arrest him. Hilbert understood hackers. As a suburban kid growing up near San Diego, he’d done some innocuous hacking himself, adopting the name Idolin—his take on an ancient term for ghost or spirit. Hilbert knew that as a native Russian speaker and experienced cyberthief, Popov could go places the FBI couldn’t, moving through underground chat rooms and message boards, forging relationships, and feeding the bureau much-needed evi-
dence and leads. The trick would be to manage Popov carefully, stroking his ego and showing deference to his skills. Hilbert discussed his plan with a prosecutor in Los Angeles who had a case pending against Popov, and the two were soon sitting across from Popov and his lawyers at the US attorney’s office in St. Louis. They laid out a deal. Popov would get time served on the Missouri case, and the government would consolidate all the others in Southern California, where Popov could work off his charges by going undercover for the FBI. This time Popov wouldn’t be expected to set up his friends. His targets would be strangers to whom Popov owed no loyalty. Hilbert called it an intelligence-gathering mission, like something James Bond might do. “I truly respect your skill set,” Hilbert said. Popov signed a plea deal accepting the government’s offer in March 2002, and Hilbert had his mole. opov could never resist the chance to showcase his skills, and he was barely off the Con Air flight to California when he was messing with the legal research computer in the Santa Ana Jail law library. He discovered that the machine was wired to a jailwide network, and with a few keystrokes Popov sent “profane comments and remarks”—as the disciplinary report later put it—spilling out of printers around the facility. The jail staff put him on lockdown, but Popov had no regrets. In prison, the smallest hack is a shaft of sunlight. Still, it was a relief in August when Hilbert and another agent collected Popov for his first day at work. In a procedure that would become an almost daily routine, the agents kept Popov shackled and handcuffed as they led him to their car. After a short drive, they pulled up to the back door of an office building and escorted Popov to a small room stuffed with desks, a table, and a handful of Windows machines seized in a piracy raid. Hilbert ankle-cuffed Popov to a computer table in front of a Cyrillic keyboard. Popov was ecstatic. Compared with jail, the drab work-
space was the Oval Office. He could accomplish anything here. They called the operation Ant City. Now that he was back online, Popov adopted a new identity and began hanging out in underground chat rooms and posting on CarderPlanet, portraying himself as a big-time Ukrainian scammer with an insatiable hunger for stolen credit cards. His first big target was at the top of CarderPlanet’s rigorous hierarchy: a mysterious Ukrainian then known only as “Script.” Popov made contact in early September, and the two began talking privately over ICQ, the instant messenger favored in Eastern Europe. Two weeks later Popov negotiated a deal to buy $400 worth of stolen credit card numbers. By sending the contraband to Popov in California, Script committed a federal crime in a US jurisdiction. Hilbert’s evidence would eventually help persuade Ukrainian police to arrest Script, though the hacker would be released after six months in jail. That kind of “controlled buy” of credit card data was key to Hilbert’s strategy: Spreading a little money around was an easy way for Popov to make contacts, and with the cards in hand, Hilbert could work with the credit card companies to identify the source of the breach. Popov moved down the ladder to rank-and-file vendors and hackers, striking deals and collecting intelligence. Some days were short, others stretched out to 10 hours. But regardless of Popov’s successes, each ended the same way, with Hilbert returning to his home and family, and Popov going back to his crummy jail cell. But on Thanksgiving, Hilbert prepared a surprise for his prized asset. When Popov arrived for work, he found a projector set up and pointed at the wall. Hilbert hit a few keys on a laptop and the screen filled with the opening credits of The Fellowship of the Ring, fresh out on DVD. For lunch, Hilbert brought out a complete Thanksgiving meal: turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, sweet potatoes, even pumpkin pie. Popov was moved. Hilbert had chosen to spend part of the holiday with him, instead of with his own family. As word of Ant City filtered through the bureau, Hilbert began fielding requests from other FBI offices to look into specific hacks. February 2003 saw the biggest yet: an intrusion into the credit card payment processor Data Processing International that had exposed 8 million cards. Popov began asking around about DPI, and one of his contacts, a 21-year-old Russian student called “RES,” volunteered that he knew the three hackers responsible and could broker a deal. Popov boldly declared that he intended to buy all 8 million cards for $200,000, but he wanted a small sample first. The sample would let Hilbert confirm that the cards really came from the DPI breach. But RES scoffed at the offer. Popov’s relatively small purchases up to that point had offered no evidence that he had $200,000 in his bank account. Hilbert came up with a solution. Popov dressed in street clothes and, with an entourage of FBI agents for security, was shuttled to a nearby bank that had agreed to cooperate. In a back room, bank workers brought out $200,000 in hundred-dollar bills from the vault and arranged it on a table. Hilbert uncuffed Popov and shot a video of the hacker from the neck down as he riffled through the wads of cash.
“So look, I am showing the dough,” Popov said in Russian. “The dough is fucking real, no fucking blathering. I’ll be transferring it to my account.” He snatched a bill from a stack and held it close to the camera. “All the fucking watermarks, all the shit is here. I am showing it to you at point-blank range.” He tossed the bill disdainfully to the table. “So call your mob, and let us settle this fucking business.” The video satisfied the Russian. Identifying RES was even easier. Popov mentioned to the hacker that some of his money came from a day job he held with a company called HermesPlast that was in the credit card printing business. Suggesting that the Russian apply for work there himself, he pointed RES to the company’s website and shared the email address of his purported boss, “Anatoly Feldman.” RES sent Feldman an application the same day, with a copy of his résumé and a scan of his Russian national ID card. HermesPlast, of course, was a fake company set up by Hilbert and Popov. Now the FBI had RES’ real name, date of birth, and address. It was a surprisingly simple ploy that would work again and again. One thing Popov had always known about Eastern European hackers: All they really wanted was a job.
n April 8, 2003, Popov was brought out of the Santa Ana Jail for sentencing in front of US district judge David Carter. For eight months he’d been spending his days on Ant City and his nights behind bars. On the government’s recommendation, Carter sentenced Popov to time served and three years of court supervision. He then immediately ordered that all records of the sentencing be sealed. Twenty-eight months after he had boarded a flight to the US, Popov was set free in the middle of Orange County, California, 8 miles from Disneyland and a world away from Zhytomyr. But his immigration status was complicated. He had no green card or Social Security number and no way to get a legitimate job or a driver’s license. Hilbert arranged for the FBI to rent Popov an apartment near the beach and pay him a $1,000-a-month stipend to continue working on Ant City. But Popov couldn’t adjust to life in a suburban swelter of freeways and strip malls. In July he was waiting at a bus stop near his probation office when a man walked up to him, drunk and angry and talking shit. Popov hit the guy hard enough to knock him to the pavement. He called the FBI in a panic, already imagining his return to prison. If he got out of this, he decided, he was going home. Popov got permission from Judge Carter to visit Ukraine, provided he return to California by August 18 to serve out the remainder of his three years of supervised release. Hilbert drove him to the airport and said good-bye, knowing full well he wouldn’t see Popov again. Contributing editor KEVIN POULSEN (@kpoulsen) wrote about a video poker scam in issue 22.10.
Ant City closed down for good. By Hilbert’s count, the operation had taken some 400,000 stolen credit cards off the black market and alerted over 700 companies that they’d been breached by Eastern European hackers. Ten suspects would eventually be charged, including Script, but none extradited. ilbert stayed in touch after the hacker’s return to Ukraine. Popov started a cybersecurity business he called Cybercrime Monitoring Systems, or Cycmos. As Popov described it, Cycmos spied on the underground, selling intelligence to the companies that were being targeted. Hilbert approved. It sounded like Popov was turning the skills he’d acquired from Ant City into a legitimate enterprise. Popov began feeding Hilbert a steady stream of tips for old time’s sake. On New Year’s Eve 2004, Hilbert’s cell phone rang. “Hey, you know what?” Popov said in his smooth, tumbling accent. “I got something new here.” There had been a big breach, he explained. And, remarkably, the FBI itself was a victim. Popov had been monitoring a Russian hacker gang that specialized in a pre-Internet networking technology called X.25, which had powered the first public packet-switched networks in the ’70s and ’80s. By 2004, X.25 was the Betamax to the Internet’s VHS, but the legacy networks were still running and thousands of corporations and government agencies around the world were still connected. The Russians were spelunking in these ancient networks and burrowing into US companies left and right. But one target was particularly alarming. Hackers had breached an AT&T data center in New Jersey where the telecom ran, under contract, the email servers for a number of US government agencies. One of these was the FBI’s, giving the Russians access to the email of every agent with an FBI.gov address. Hilbert hung up and called his boss. Soon he was on a plane to Washington, DC, to lead the investigation. Hilbert arranged for the FBI to pay Cycmos $10,000 to retrieve any stolen material and identify the hackers involved. Popov came through, handing over two documents he said were plucked from an FBI inbox: a confidential 11-page dossier the government had compiled on a CarderPlanet kingpin called King Arthur and a spreadsheet of FBI and Secret Service cybercrime targets, broken down by jurisdiction. The target list was dated six months earlier and marked “Law Enforcement Sensitive” and “Do not transmit over the Internet.” It
N OV– D E C
Vladimir Drinkman, one of the Russians behind the Heartland Payment Systems attack, is arrested on a trip to Amsterdam.
Russia issues a travel advisory warning citizens to “refrain from trips abroad” if they think the US has a case pending against them.
Hackers access Target’s corporate network to siphon off 40 million credit cards, which a Ukrainian fence puts up for sale.
AG E N T H I L B E R T WA S S O P L E A S E D W I T H P O P O V ’ S P R O G R ESS, H E B R O UG H T H I M A T H A N K S G I V I N G M E A L A N D S C R E E N E D F E L L OW S H I P O F T H E R I N G .
was a potential gold mine to the underground, containing the handles—and in some cases the real names—of over 100 hackers in the government’s crosshairs, with a smattering of notes like “top-level target” or “currently cooperating with the government.” The White House was notified, raising the stakes even higher. Hilbert asked Popov for more. Then Popov got a scoop. He directed Hilbert to an underground chat room where he could find the Russian leader of the X.25 gang. Hilbert was soon conversing with Leonid “Eadle” Sokolov, an engineering student in Saint Petersburg, Russia. Under Hilbert’s questioning, Sokolov admitted to the AT&T intrusion and the
document theft. Hilbert had him. It would be the biggest case of his career. But there was a hiccup. On February 10, 2005, Hilbert was summoned into a conference room in the J. Edgar Hoover Building, with five supervisors sitting around the table and an angry federal prosecutor on speakerphone. It turned out other corporations had also been hit in the X.25 hacking spree, and Popov had been reaching out to them to offer his assistance. One victim was the Boston-based multinational EMC, where intruders had stolen the source code for the company’s ubiquitous virtualization software, VMware. If the code got out, hackers everywhere could
The father of alleged credit card hacker Roman Seleznev claims the US wants to trade his jailed son for Edward Snowden.
The FBI puts a $3 million bounty on the Russian creator of ZeuS malware, built to hijack online banking transactions.
The Feds break up a $100 million insider-trading ring that used Ukrainian hackers to score advance copies of press releases.
H I L B E R T WA L K E D I N T O H I S B OSS ’S O F F I C E , P LU N K E D D O W N H I S G U N A N D BA D G E , A N D Q U I T— H I S E I G H T-Y E A R C A R E E R W I T H T H E F B I OV E R .
plumb it for security holes. VMware’s purpose is to allow a single server to house multiple virtual computers, each walled off from the others. So in the worst-case scenario, a hacker might find a way to “escape” from a virtual machine and seize control of the underlying system. Using his standard business alias “Denis Pinhaus,” Popov had approached EMC and warned it about the hack. For the right price, he promised, he could prevent the stolen source code from leaking and provide EMC a detailed technical analysis of the breach. As he’d done before, Popov gave EMC the name and contact information of an FBI agent who could vouch for his credibility: E. J. Hilbert.
EMC apparently viewed the pitch as an extortion attempt and reported it to the US attorney’s office in Boston. It fell on the desk of Stephen Heymann, a tough cybercrime prosecutor who would later gain notoriety for his pursuit of Internet activist Aaron Swartz. Now Heymann was on speakerphone demanding answers—who was this Pinhaus? Hilbert explained that Pinhaus was an FBI asset who was helping with an urgent investigation. “I need this guy out there right now,” he said. Heymann wasn’t moved. He wanted to charge the Ukrainian with extortion. He demanded that Hilbert give up his source’s real name.
Hilbert refused. Heymann was free to build a case against Pinhaus under his alias and go through channels to get his real identity from the FBI. But he wasn’t going to get it from Hilbert. It was the wrong thing to say to a prosecutor from Boston, where the stink of the FBI’s most infamous informant scandal still hung in the air of the federal building. Heymann’s office had sent a former FBI agent to prison for protecting a murderous South Boston mob boss for decades to maintain him as an informant. “This is another Whitey Bulger situation,” the prosecutor growled. A supervisor ordered Hilbert out of the room. Hilbert went to his computer and messaged Popov to steer clear of EMC. “Knock it off on that side, all right?” Hilbert recalls writing. “It’s important. Everybody’s looking into this situation. You have to knock it off.” Hilbert turned back to the AT&T case. Sokolov was charged in a sealed indictment in New Jersey, and a confidential Interpol Red Notice was issued for his arrest, should he ever leave Russia for a country that extradites to the US. Popov was paid and given a commendation letter on FBI stationery to display on Cycmos’ website: “We acknowledge and express our appreciation for the assistance you have provided.” The entire matter sank into the murk of the FBI’s hidden past. The only public notice of the FBI.gov email breach was a 2005 Newsweek story, and the bureau downplayed the incident, claiming that no sensitive information was stolen. The dispute with the Boston prosecutor receded in Hilbert’s mind. But four months later the FBI abruptly ordered Hilbert to cut off all contact with Popov and to hand over the 600 pages of logs he’d kept from 18 months of their online chats. Soon after, he transitioned off cybercrime and moved to a counterterrorism detail. Hilbert threw himself into the new assignment, but over time he noticed something was wrong. He was snubbed for incentive awards, and agents he’d known for years stopped talking to him. In August 2006 he applied for a supervisor slot in the Los Angeles field office. When the job posting reached headquarters, Hilbert was dropped from the candidate list and told not to reapply. “What the hell’s going on?” Hilbert asked his supervisor. That’s when he learned what everyone else seemed to already know: He was under investigation. For a year, the Justice Department’s Office of the Inspector General had been investigating Hilbert on suspicion of conspiracy, fraud against the government, and leaking confidential law enforcement information—the warning to Popov about the EMC probe.
Hilbert was devastated. The FBI was his dream job, but a criminal investigation would put a dead stop to his rise in the bureau, and he had two children at home and a third on the way. He began quietly casting around for job opportunities in the private sector, and in February 2007 he walked into his boss’s office, plunked his gun and badge on the desk, and quit. Thanks to his breakthrough case, his eight-year career with the FBI was now over. ilbert was well established in his new career as a consultant when Popov called him again, out of the blue. More than six years had elapsed since they last spoke, and this time Popov had no deals to offer, no tips or quid pro quos. Just gratitude. “He called me up to thank me for the way I treated him and for his time in jail and the way it was handled,” Hilbert told me over lunch at a family restaurant in Orange County early in 2013. “Now he’s gone home and changed his life, and he’s got a family now, and he owes me everything—his words.” The call from Popov only served to stir up Hilbert’s sense of mistreatment by the government. Even after he’d left the bureau, the inspector general’s office continued to investigate him; at one point it had even sent agents to Hilbert’s workplace to try to question him. Finally, in 2009, Hilbert was cleared when the Justice Department formally declined to indict. In my first conversations with Popov, he told me the same story of redemption that he shared with Hilbert. But eventually, a different narrative emerged. Popov had been nursing grievances of his own in the EMC affair. At the time of his call to Hilbert, he had just resolved them. In addition to contacting Heymann, EMC had quietly made a deal with Popov in 2005, he said, paying him $30,000 by wire transfer and promising a second payment, of $40,000, in four years if the stolen VMware source code didn’t leak. He kept his part of the bargain. The code never leaked, and the fact that the sensitive blueprints for VMware were in the hands of overseas hackers remained a secret from customers and shareholders alike. But years after that hack, when he approached EMC for the balance of his $70,000 “consulting” fee, the company refused, he says. (EMC declined to comment). By then EMC had spun out VMware as its own company. To Popov, it looked like EMC executives wanted to pretend that the whole thing had never happened. The sheer disrespect galled him and he wanted revenge. Popov crafted a new identity— “Hardcore Charlie,” a self-described Russian hacktivist aligned with Anonymous. And on April 23, 2012, nearly eight years after it was taken, the stolen VMware code’s first 520 lines appeared on the web. Despite the age of the code, the leak alarmed the technology world and galvanized the staff at VMware’s offices in Palo Alto, California. The 2004 breach had long faded CONTINUED ON PAGE 113
Björn Ulvaeus, of Abba fame, wants to abolish physical currency in Sweden …
Nothing is more ordinary
Photographs by Olaf Blecker
than a Monday morning at a
People go about their business quietly, with Scandinavian efficiency. The weather outside is, more likely than not, cold and gray. But on April 22, 2013, the scene at Stockholm’s Östermalmstorg branch of Skandinaviska Enskilda Banken got a jolt of color. At 10:30 am, a man in a black cap burst into the building. “This is a robbery!” he announced, using one arm to point a gun at the bankers and the other to hold out a cloth bag. “I want cash!” If the staff was alarmed, no one much showed it. Instead, the employees calmly informed the stranger that his demands could not be met. The bank, they explained, had no cash on the premises. None in the vaults, none at the
MALLORY PICKETT (@mallorylpickett) is a journalist based in Berkeley, California. This is her ﬁrst feature for wired.
Illustration by Sean Freeman
tellers’ windows, none at all. When the robber looked confused, he was directed to a poster on the wall that proclaimed this a “cash-free” location. “It’s true,” the manager told him. “Sorry.” Crestfallen, the would-be thief lowered his gun and prepared to leave. Just before he stepped out, he turned to one of the tellers. “Where else can I go?” he asked. His options, in fact, were fairly limited. What this man had somehow failed to notice was that his country is at the forefront of a global economic shift. As pads of paper are to the modern-day office, so cash is to the world of ﬁnance: increasingly unnecessary and vanishing from sight. Some countries are embracing this future faster than others. The United States is about halfway there, at least in one sense: According to the Federal Reserve, Americans use cash for 46 percent of their transactions, preferring for the rest the convenience of plastic, check, or the mobile payment apps on their smartphones. The explosion of digital ﬁnance platforms, from Square card readers to services like Venmo, Apple Pay, Google Wallet, and PayPal, has made spending as easy, fast, and pleasant as sending a text. To some this may seem unnerving, but even amid security concerns over data breaches and identity theft, a world without cash seems inevitable, if not imminent. But Swedes exist in a kind of sped-up timeline, where tomorrow happens yesterday. They number so few—10 million, about half the size of Los Angeles—and their IT infrastructure is so sophisticated that the entire
country can pilot-test new developments, new systems, new futures practically overnight. In the process, Sweden has become a small peninsular slice of society to come—much like San Francisco, though cleaner and even better connected. Stockholm just announced it will be among the world’s ﬁrst cities with a 5G mobile network, and most of the country is on track to have ultra-high-speed Internet by 2020. But then, Sweden has been in the vanguard for quite some time. More than 350 years ago, it became the ﬁrst European nation to print paper money. Now it could be the ﬁrst to phase it out. Unless cash defenders get their way, that is. Even in Sweden, change isn’t easy. Two powerful men stand at the crux of this massive transition, facing off in a national debate about the value of physical currency in the 21st century. This being Sweden, they are both named Björn.
MONEY, MONEY, MONEY
Must be funny In the rich man’s world Money, money, money Always sunny In the rich man’s world In the 1976 music video for Abba’s “Money, Money, Money,” Björn Ulvaeus, who wrote the song with bandmate Benny Andersson, sports a shaggy haircut and a rhinestone-trimmed satin kimono. Forty years later, he’s a more soberly dressed multimillionaire with a house in Stockholm’s swankiest suburb, Djursholm, discovering that money might not be so funny after all. Meet Björn number one, the face of Sweden’s cash-free movement. Ulvaeus’ radicalization dates back to the events of October 25, 2008, when burglars tried to break into his son Christian’s apartment. They failed, but Christian was spooked. He started glancing around corners in his own home, nervous they’d be back. A few weeks later, they were. While Christian was at work, two men came in through the balcony and stole his cameras and a designer jacket. It wasn’t a devastating haul, but Christian was shaken enough that he decided to move. For his dad, the whole episode was an outrage. “I started thinking they took these things, and they went somewhere and they got bills, paper bills,” Ulvaeus says over lunch at a deli near his home. “What if there wasn’t any paper money?” So Ulvaeus, who retains inﬂuential pop idol status (at least in Sweden), began writing opinion pieces for newspapers and websites. His argument was simple: The criminal economy depends on the anonymous, untraceable nature of cash. Indeed, much of the cash in the world, maybe most of it, is simply unaccounted for. The World Bank estimates that about a third of the cash in most countries circulates underground, in black markets and through illegal employment. Take it away and thieves have no foolproof way to sell their stolen goods, drug dealers no way to hide their deals, and eventually the whole shadow economy collapses. The more Ulvaeus thought about it, the more logical it seemed and the angrier he got. Attachment to cash was not just nostalgic but irrational, even dangerous. In 2011, Ulvaeus stopped using paper money completely—and hasn’t touched the stuff since. Two years later, when he cofounded the official Abba museum in Stockholm—a glittery establishment where visitors can insert themselves into music videos and shop for band-approved golden clogs—Ulvaeus insisted
that no cash be accepted on the premises. On opening day, signs stood in the entrance and in the gift shop that read: I challenge anyone to come up with reasons to keep cash that outweigh the enormous beneﬁts of getting rid of it. Imagine the worldwide suffering because of crime, from drug dealing to bicycle theft. Crime that requires cash. The Swedish krona is a small currency, used only in Sweden. This is the ideal place to start the biggest crime-preventing scheme ever. We could and should be the ﬁrst cashless society in the world. —Björn Ulvaeus Ulvaeus’ crusade added just the right amount of star power to a larger, more coordinated effort already well under way. Several years earlier, the banks of Sweden had gotten together for the express purpose of weaning Swedes off bills and coins, under the banner of crime reduction. They began running a “public safety campaign” that encouraged people to buy things with cards instead of cash, lest they risk a curbside mugging; they also started emptying their own vaults of physical currency. The move had an intuitive appeal for most Swedes: As safe as the country is, it’s constantly looking for new ways to eliminate crime completely. Then, around the time Ulvaeus opened his museum, the banks created an app called Swish. Swish is what really sets Sweden apart, even among its similarly low-cash, high tech Scandinavian neighbors, because it replaces cash in the last kind of transaction where it had been most convenient: person-to-person payments. A souped-up Venmo, Swish moves money instantaneously between users’ bank accounts, no processing time required. All you need is someone’s phone number. Since its launch, nearly half the population has started using the app; in December of last year, Swedes Swished some 10 million times. Even small businesses now accept Swish payments, as do some homeless people selling magazines on the streets of Stockholm (though if you don’t have the app, they usually carry portable card readers too). This new activism by the banks, along
with the support of Ulvaeus, transformed Swedish society in just a few years. In 2010, 40 percent of Swedish retail transactions were made using cash; by 2014 that amount had fallen to about 20 percent. More than half of bank offices no longer deal in cash. To his claim that going cashless is the “biggest crimepreventing scheme ever,” Ulvaeus now has some statistics to back it up. The Swedish National Council for Crime Prevention counted only 23 bank robberies in 2014, down 70 percent from a decade earlier. In the same period, muggings dropped 10 percent. While it’s unclear the extent to which the transition to cashless has affected the rate of street crime, police point out that there’s a lot less incentive to rob a bus driver, cabbie, or shopkeeper if they don’t accept cash. Many workers say they now feel much safer. Still, Ulvaeus is not satisﬁed. He’s annoyed there’s any cash left in Sweden at all. “Why would you pay for things with paper symbols that can be forged, that can be used in the black economy? It’s so unmodern,” he says. “It’s so out of touch.” Unmodern: It’s one of Ulvaeus’ favorite, most biting insults. In some ways he has spent his whole life chasing modernity. In his earlier years, he wanted to be an engineer and taught himself to code on his Atari. Musical superstardom derailed those dreams, but Ulvaeus never abandoned that side of himself. “Pop music has always been driven by technology,” he says. “Every new sound, we were like, what are the Bee Gees doing there? We have to get that!” He’s never been someone who romanticizes the old way of doing things; retro is lame. He idolizes modern-day boundary-pushers such as Elon Musk and professional atheist Richard Dawkins. Ulvaeus believes, with a conviction bordering on zealotry, that once the world sees Sweden and the rest of Scandinavia transform into a cashless, crimeless utopia, with tax revenues soaring, it will have no other choice but to follow suit. Take Greece, a country Ulvaeus has a special connection to (see: Mamma Mia!). “My God, what good it would do that country to be cashless,” he says. Corruption, tax evasion, the black economy: They could vanish. “I know it’s going to happen. I’m impatient. I want to see it!” Lunch is over. Ulvaeus pays for his ﬁsh with a black elite MasterCard and drives off in his Tesla.
a centuries-old system so quickly is not without its challenges. Weird things start to happen at every level of society. To wit: Sweden held its ﬁrst major cashless music festival in the summer of 2014, and organizers provided attendees with special high tech wristbands for in-festival purchases. On the ﬁrst day, the electronic payment system crashed, leaving thousands of thirsty festivalgoers unable to buy beer and forcing some vendors, one newspaper reported, to use a rather unmodern form of payment: paper IOUs. In a curious case of an “e-mugging” on the Swedish island of Gotland last July, the victim told police he’d been forced to Swish money to a thief. The accused was
easily identiﬁed—Swish requires a name and phone number—but when police found him, he said the transaction was just a friendly payment for beer. The police didn’t have enough evidence to bring the man to court, so the alleged e-mugger walked free. Over the holidays, two young Russian tourists tried to board a bus and pay on board. The driver refused to take their bills. “We took out all this kronor when we got here,” one of them said as she walked back to the station, dejected. “It’s all still with us.” In Överlida, a small town in western Sweden, a third-party ATM wasn’t hitting the minimum number of transactions, so the operator threatened to charge the bank extra fees. To prevent that from happening, bank employees stood next to the machine, paying 100 kronor (about $12) to anyone who would use it. In Skoghall, a rural town north of Stockholm, the locals campaigned for an ATM to be installed at their grocery store after all the others in town were decommissioned. When they ﬁnally got one, they threw what may have been the world’s ﬁrst ATM party. A live band performed a Swedish rendition of Monty Python’s “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life,” singing, “Weee haaave a neeeew ATM,” while people cheered and a man on the roof showered celebrants with candy. Making a cash deposit is now cause for suspicion—even if you’re a priest. New antimoney-laundering laws force tellers to ask detailed questions about where the cash comes from, and some banks enforce strict limits on maximum deposits. This means tithes often leave churches with more cash than they can handle, especially after big hauls during Christmas and Easter. The Swedish government’s supposedly impenetrable mainframe was infiltrated in 2012 by a hacker who stole citizens’ personal data and used it to gain access to private accounts at Nordea, Sweden’s largest bank. Gottfrid Svartholm Warg, Sweden’s most famous cybercriminal and a cofounder of Pirate Bay, was convicted of the crime and served a year in jail. In 2014, a security researcher discovered a major ﬂaw in Swish’s design that gave him instant access to any user’s transaction history. He alerted the banks, which ﬁxed
Wireless Transfers Sweden’s rapid transition to a cashless economy has been made possible, in part, by an app called Swish. It’s similar to mobile payment platforms like Venmo in the US, with one key difference: It’s much faster. —M.P.
the bug right away. Nobody noticed—until the good hacker posted about it on his blog a few weeks later.
How Venmo Works If Venmo transactions seem instantaneous, they’re not: When you Venmo a friend the cost of dinner, the money goes directly from your bank account into your pal’s in-app wallet, where it sits for one or two days before officially showing up on their bank statement. This is because the receiving bank has to verify the transfer.
How Square Cash Works Though known primarily for its tiny card readers, Square also has its own payment app that lets users send and receive payments for free. Its competitive advantage over Venmo? You don’t need to provide your bank account’s routing number, and most transfers are instantaneous—but not all.
How Swish Works Unlike Venmo and Square Cash, Swish was created by the banks themselves. When you tap Pay, a separate veriﬁcation app, BankID, prompts you to enter a PIN. Once you do, the money moves instantly into the recipient’s bank account—no wait (or mandatory “What’s it for?” note) required.
Cash costs banks money . It must be handled , counted , transported , and counted again .
most important consideration in the global transition to cashless. That’s why Björn Ulvaeus is constantly talking about public safety. So you might think the former president of Interpol—the International Criminal Police Organization— would be on Ulvaeus’ side. He is not. Meet Björn number two, the leader of Kontantupproret, or Sweden’s Cash Uprising. Björn Eriksson is a big man, with winged eyebrows and ﬂuffy gray hair. When he sits down, he seems to do so reluctantly, as though he would much rather stay standing, or have a walking meeting in which he would walk very fast. He and Ulvaeus share more than a first name. They were both born in 1945 and so turn 71 this year. But if time has radicalized Ulvaeus, it has hardened Eriksson. In the early ’80s, when Eriksson was working in Swedish customs, he sniffed out a covert police operation to smuggle illegal bugging equipment through the country. The police commissioner resigned soon after, and Eriksson was tapped to take his place. He remained in law enforcement for the rest of his career, spending time as head of the Swedish police before his appointment to the Interpol presidency. Although he’s technically retired now, it never occurred to him to stop working. Of the many causes he’s still involved in, the “cash problem,” as he calls it, is where he invests most of his energy. He sees corruption, deceit, and security risks everywhere. Consumers are not shaping Ulvaeus’ utopianist dream of a cashless future, Eriksson says; the banks and credit card companies are. After all, it was the banks that pushed people to use cards in the ﬁrst place; and it was the banks, not some independent tech startup, that created Swish. The cost-beneﬁt is obvious: Cards, with their hidden costs and fees, make banks money, whereas vaults of bills and coins do not. In fact, cash costs banks money. It must be handled, counted, transported, guarded, and counted again. As Niklas Arvidsson, an economist at Stock-
CRIME IS THE SINGLE
True , bank robberies and muggings have declined . But fraud and identity theft have gone up .
holm’s Royal Institute of Technology, puts it: “It’s clear the banks have a business incentive to reduce the use of cash.” Time is money, and money takes time. But for the most part, Swedes are not a cynical people. They like technology and trust their government and institutions. As the numbers show, most of them have been perfectly happy to renounce cash. In fact, many hardly seem to notice what’s happening at all, so convenient the changeover has been. That’s what concerns Eriksson most: not so much the opportunism on the part of the banks, which seems inevitable, but the thoughtlessness with which so many Swedes
seem to have ﬂung themselves—as though to the merry tune of “Dancing Queen”—into an uncertain, possibly unsafe future. So last year, Eriksson started Cash Uprising, an organization whose core mission is to save the paper krona from extinction. Its members are mostly people from rural areas, small-business owners, and retirees—the ones, in other words, for whom the sudden departure of cash has been inconvenient enough to force them to stop, take notice, and worry. Camilla Kristensson and Lars-Erik Olsson live in Gärdslöv, a cluster of houses in southern Sweden too small to be called a village. (Olsson estimates the population “in town” is about 22.) Kristensson and Olsson are treasurer and president, respectively, of the Gärdslöv cultural council, which hosts events like mushroom foraging and charcoal making. After one such event last summer, Kristensson had about 20,000 kronor to deposit in the council’s account. But when she went to the local bank, a 10-minute drive away, it refused her cash for the ﬁrst time ever. So she had to start driving 40 minutes into the city every month to deposit as much money as she was allowed, storing the remainder in various hiding spots. What makes her and Olsson angry isn’t just that the bank stopped taking their cash—it’s that it happened so quickly, without regard for how it would affect people like them. “They changed it almost overnight,” Olsson says. “We need time to change.” Now Olsson’s council is part of Eriksson’s coalition of cash activists, who hold meetings, circulate petitions, and generally make noise about cash access. Ulvaeus, who has little patience for Eriksson’s views, describes the uprising as “Eriksson and a vanguard of geriatrics,” which is not altogether untrue, but they are some of the only voices speaking up for the consumer in this massive economic shift. The Swedish government has held several hearings on how to regulate the future of cash that were largely prompted by the work of Cash Uprising, and this September the parliament could vote on a bill that might require banks to provide cash services. (In a surprising victory for the movement, the head of Sweden’s central bank recently lent his support to such a proposal.)
Eriksson does have another role in all this: He’s the chair of a major privatesecurity lobby, an industry that a recent economic study called one of the “biggest losers” in a cash-free world. Among other things, security personnel guard vaults and protect cash. No physical cash equals no more jobs. Everyone has an interest, Eriksson says, but he believes his are at least aligned with those of the consumer. Cash is security, he says. You can hold it in your hands; it can be protected. Spending it does not entail sharing personal information with credit card companies, app creators, or banks. It is true that bank robberies and muggings have declined in Sweden in the past few years. But according to crime statistics from the same national organizations, cases of fraud, usually involving identity theft, have more than doubled. And that stat is based only on cases reported to the police. Most banks won’t publicly share how often their customers’ card information is stolen or their systems breached. It’s a good bet that the numbers are higher than consumers would like them to be. While Swedes swipe and Swish their money away, they open themselves up to new risks—cybercriminals who would either trick them into divulging sensitive information or exploit security ﬂaws to steal their identity outright. “We see that cybercrime is becoming more aggressive,” says Ulrika Sundling, chief inspector of the Swedish police’s cyber-investigations unit. And she says consumers, generally unaware of the threat and therefore unmotivated to take extra steps to protect themselves, are the “weakest link.” Eriksson has been hounding Sweden’s banks for years, convinced they’re hiding exorbitant sums of lost money for fear of bad publicity. He even bought single shares of stock in different banks so he could go to shareholder meetings and try to get his questions answered. “They don’t like me,” he says, grinning. For their part, the banks say they keep this information close for customer security. According to Gunilla Garpås, a senior business developer at Nordea and one of the creators of Swish, more transparency about cases of cyberattacks, fraud, and the banks’ defenses against them “would really be putting ourselves and our customers at risk.” Eriksson’s suspicions don’t stop at the banks. He believes MasterCard’s sponsorship of the Abba museum is the reason Ulvaeus is such a dedicated anticash advocate—but Ulvaeus wrote his ﬁrst articles on the subject long before the museum opened. That is not to say MasterCard isn’t capitalizing on this moment, though. The card company also heavily sponsors iZettle, the most popular mobile card reader in Sweden.
American retailers made the switch to chip readers. (Well, they were supposed to, but the rollout has been uneven, and some stores still allow the old swipeand-sign method.) You likely received new chip-enabled cards from your bank as a result. The upgrade came after a year of high-proﬁle hacks: 56 million credit and debit card numbers stolen from Home Depot, 40 million from Target, another
million from Neiman Marcus. The “new” chip technology—which has been standard in the European Union for more than a decade—is intended to make electronic transactions safer and more secure. Then, this March, several major US banks announced a new digital payment platform called clearXchange. (A better name is reportedly in the works.) It is, ﬁnally, the US equivalent of Swish: a bank-backed service that lets people transfer money from their bank account directly into someone else’s. These moves will help speed up the decline of cash use in the US, which hasn’t seen signiﬁcant change in the past few years; electronic payments have hovered around 50 percent of all transactions. Americans tend to be less trusting of their institutions than their Swedish counterparts—and for good reason. Strict privacy laws safeguard Swedes from unwanted invasions, but consumer protections in the US are considerably ﬂimsier. As Jay Stanley, a senior policy analyst at the ACLU’s Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project, puts it: “We have a hurricane of data, and we’re living in a shack.” Plus, many Americans simply don’t want banks or the government to know what they’re spending their money on (thus the appeal of cryptocurrency like bitcoin). But don’t be fooled: Economists have been predicting the end of physical currency for decades, and Sweden’s transformation signals the time is nigh for the rest of the world. Americans may cling to their bills and coins with greater tenacity than Swedes do, but in that reluctance is an opportunity to proceed cautiously and look to Sweden for guidance. Ultimately, Sweden’s two Björns want the same thing: a safer society. The world is going cashless, as Ulvaeus says, but consumers have to feel more secure in this new order, per Eriksson. They’re not so much rivals as complements. Not that they see themselves that way, set as they are in their inﬂexible views. Offered the opportunity to get dinner with Eriksson and maybe hash out differences over schnapps, Ulvaeus thought about it for a few seconds before saying, “No, I don’t think that’s a good idea. I might get angry.” Which is probably just as well. Imagine them ﬁghting over the check.
ibly into glasses, but batteries are the bugaboo of VR. The computational load of VR is so huge that untethered headsets will be very difficult to fuel. It’ll be a long while, if ever, before a day’s worth of battery power can be squeezed into the frames of glasses. For now they will be wired to a battery in your pocket.
Hypervision CON TIN UED FR OM PAGE 87
3-D space with minimal gestures, voice, and gaze. You’d lift, twist, speak, and nod just so. I suspect there would be a beauty in watching a skilled creator work in VR, much like in watching a woodworker or dancer. A universal interface for working in VR would unleash the greatest expression of creativity the planet has yet seen. NARROW FIELD OF VIEW. Right now the field of view in mixed-reality devices is too narrow. Of the current crop of MR spectacles, Meta 2’s field of vision is the widest, but even its coverage is inadequate. Virtual objects that are located directly in front of you, within the coverage of the screen, appear present. But when you turn your gaze away, they disappear from your peripheral vision. This breaks the chain of persuasion. Fully enclosed VR devices don’t suffer the same drawback; because you see nothing at all in your peripheral vision (only deliberate blackness), you don’t get contradictory information. Objects disappear when you turn, but the background area does too. All mixed-reality systems labor under a second challenge that VR systems don’t: Ideally, in a mixed reality, the virtual teacup you see on your desk would be lit with the same kind of lighting, from the same direction, with the same color tone, as your real desk. To do that would require outside cameras and software that dynamically computes the lighting in the room in real time. No mixed-reality rig can do that now. The mismatch in the lighting is another weak link in the chain of persuasion. In my experience, this discrepancy tends to produce an effect I would call “artificial things really present.” You don’t confuse artificial objects with real things really present; they are artificial things really present. T E T H E R S . It’s hard to overstate the benefit of wearing a lightweight device that is not tethered to a fixed location. Being free to roam deepens the sense of presence, while worry about a cable tends to disrupt the spell. Screens and processors can be made much smaller, even down to a size that will fit invis1
THE COEVOLUTION OF science fiction and innovation is slowly being recognized as a paramount cultural force. Talk long enough to any engineer working on VR and they will eventually mention one of two books: Snow Crash or Ready Player One. Ernest Cline, the author of Ready Player One, invented the Oasis, a vast, networked virtual universe with virtual planets, where billions of people remain immersed for school, work, and play. In a delicious example of the recursive nature of science fiction’s sway, Cline’s invention of the fictional Oasis may become reality. “There’s a chance the studios will make a rudimentary virtual experience based on the fictional Oasis in the movie,” Cline says. “If it were to catch on and slowly evolve, then there is the possibility that the Oasis could become an actual real thing used by millions—as a result of me imagining it in my novel.” Among the first people Abovitz hired at Magic Leap was Neal Stephenson, author of the other seminal VR anticipation, Snow Crash. He wanted Stephenson to be Magic Leap’s chief futurist because “he has an engineer’s mind fused with that of a great writer.” Abovitz wanted him to lead a small team developing new forms of narrative. Again, the mythmaker would be making the myths real. The hero in Snow Crash wielded a sword in the virtual world. To woo Stephenson, four emissaries from Magic Leap showed up at Stephenson’s home with Orcrist—the “Goblincleaver” sword from The Hobbit trilogy. It was a reproduction of the prop handcrafted by a master swordsmith. That is, it was a false version of the real thing used in the unreal film world—a clever bit of recursiveness custom-made for mixed reality. Stephenson was intrigued. “It’s not every day that someone turns up at your house bearing a mythic sword, and so I did what anyone who has read a lot of fantasy novels would: I let them in and gave them beer,” he wrote on Magic Leap’s blog. “True to form, they invited me on a quest and asked me to sign a contract (well, an NDA actually).” Stephenson accepted the job. “We’ve maxed out what we can do with 2-D screens,” he says. “Now it’s time to unleash what is possible in 3-D, and that means redefining the medium from the ground up. We can’t do that in small steps.” He compared the challenge of VR to crossing a treacherous valley to reach
new heights. He admires Abovitz because he is willing to “slog through that valley.” It’s too early to know what virtual reality is or what it will be. Abovitz believes that synthetic reality is the ultimate human medium because it is so directly wired to our brains. “Our brain is an amazing sensory computer. Magic Leap is just the pen and paper, the typewriter, or the canvas and brush for a power that people have had brewing in them since people first appeared. The real way to the future is biology.” One thing we do know: The evolution of technology can take curious turns. Cell phones started out so bulky they needed their own luggage. It was easy to imagine them getting smaller and smaller. Which they did. But they did not merely shrink into miniature versions of themselves. As it got smaller, the mobile telephone lost its keypad, gained a hi-res color screen, started to grow in size again, and eventually stopped being used as a phone. It evolved into something different and unexpected. VR will surprise us too. Not immediately, but within 15 years, the bulk of our work and play time will touch the virtual to some degree. Systems for delivering these shared virtual experiences will become the largest enterprises we have ever made. Fully immersive VR worlds already generate and consume gigabytes of data per experience. In the next 10 years the scale will increase from gigabytes per minute to terabytes per minute. The global technology industry— chip designers, consumer device makers, communication conglomerates, component manufacturers, content studios, software creators—will all struggle to handle the demands of this vast system as it blossoms. And only a few companies will dominate the VR networks because, as is so common in networks, success is self-reinforcing. The bigger the virtual society becomes, the more attractive it is. And the more attractive, the bigger yet it becomes. These artificial-reality winners will become the largest companies in history, dwarfing the largest companies today by any measure. I don’t know if Magic Leap will be one of those companies. It’s not going to win the race to be first in this category, but none of the current titans were first to their markets. While Magic Leap has filed more than 150 patents, it has not yet publicly demo’d a prototype. Most important, we still don’t know enough about human perception to know what will work in virtual domains; it’ll take more VR to figure that out. We must navigate the treacherous valley before reaching new heights. Yet something certainly has just happened. A threshold has been crossed. After a long gestation, VR is good enough to improve quickly. It’s real. �
Double Cross CON TIN UED F ROM PAGE 101
from VMware’s institutional memory, and some of the stolen kernel code was still in the company’s current product. Security chief Iain Mulholland, a onetime officer in the British Army, mounted a staggering damage-control operation, recruiting every security auditor he could lay his hands on to search for weaknesses in the kernel code. The company pushed out the first of multiple security updates 10 days later. By the time Popov released a larger tranche of source code in November 2012, the critical security holes were all patched. This hardly sounded like the efforts of a conventional security consultant. Pressed, Popov finally confirmed what by then had become obvious: The EMC intrusion and the FBI email hack hadn’t really been the work of a random Russian hacker. “Technically, we were the ones who did it,” Popov tells me in a late-night phone call. Sokolov, the Saint Petersburg student charged in the FBI breach, had been working with Popov from the start to squeeze money from the X.25 hacks. “He is the best of the best,” Popov says. When they cracked the AT&T data center, Popov figured the telco would easily fork out $150,000 to learn the details and protect its government contracts. It was only when AT&T refused that Popov phoned Hilbert to report the breach, hoping the FBI would pay for the information. Once he had a deal with Hilbert, Popov persuaded Sokolov to talk to the agent in a chat room so Hilbert could “solve” the crime. Popov says Hilbert wasn’t in on the scam. “I think he suspected something, really,” Popov says. “But it wasn’t that obvious at the time.” I can’t confirm whether or not Hilbert suspected something, because by the time of Popov’s confession Hilbert had stopped talking to me, concerned that a story about Ant City would harm him in his new post as a director of cybersecurity and privacy at the Big Four accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers.
For his part, Popov, now 35, comes across as alternately weary and defiant. He has no regrets about hacking the FBI. But his swagger fades a bit when I ask him about the role his double-dealing played in ruining Hilbert’s FBI career. Popov still remembers Thanksgiving 2002, the turkey meal, and The Lord of the Rings. “He was the only friend I had,” Popov says about Hilbert. “I still love him, even if he’s getting kind of distant from me now because of my new stuff. I’m still a blackhat, and I never changed. But who cares? I still love him.” followed Ant City saw the Eastern European underground go from simmer to supernova. Breaches at Target and Home Depot siphoned off nearly 100 million credit and debit card numbers in 2013 and 2014. A Russian-made Trojan horse program called ZeuS sparked a 10-year surge in online bank robbery. Worms and botnets, malware that ransoms files for bitcoin, even an elaborate $100 million insider trading scheme uncovered last year—all have been linked to hackers from former Soviet states. As ever, scalability is everything. A Russian hacker doesn’t crack a bank account, steal some money, and call it a day; he codes a software suite that automates bank account hijacking and sells it underground for $3,000 a copy. His customers—the actual thieves—hire spammers to distribute the malware and money mules to launder the funds. Everyone has a specialty. Everyone gets paid. Hilbert’s work with Popov was the first attempt to really crack this world, though in many ways it was just a new twist on a timeworn law enforcement strategy. When a federal law enforcement agency confronts a vast criminal machine, it invariably tries to sabotage the clockwork from the inside. And to do that, the agency must become a working component in the very criminal apparatus it hopes to destroy. The tactic always strikes a fraught balance, and Ant City would not be the last time it backfired. In another case soon after, a Secret Service informant named Albert Gonzalez covertly joined with Russian hackers in a crime spree—which compromised 160 million credit cards and inflicted losses in the hundreds of millions of dollars—before he was caught and sentenced to 20 years in prison in 2010. The prosecutor, assistant US attorney Heymann, had asked for 25. Some operations end in arrests and award ceremonies, others in embarrassed silence. The only constant is the Eastern European underground, which grinds on, like any machine, tireless and indifferent and, for the most part, simply looking for work that pays. �
THE YEARS THAT
COLOPHON ILLUSIONS THAT HELPED GET THIS ISSUE OUT: A virtual LSD trip inside the Orange Sunshine VR experience; Stephen Curry joining our tech team; seeing in 5-D when my contact lens moves into just the right place; A Delusion of Satan: The Full Story of the Salem Witch Trials, by Frances Hill; happiness; the end of daylight saving time; Twitter friends; autostereograms that I can never see; a glowing portal that appeared when my cat meowed, so he could crawl inside it, and then disappeared after he did his business and crawled out; the 50 card tricks my son learned on YouTube; meditations; dancing with somebody via the Dance Break app; Taylor Swift writing “T.S. + A.W.” (my initials) in the sand; George Oscar Bluth Jr.’s Aztec Tomb illusion; the grand illusion that anything I do really matters. wired is a registered trademark of Advance Magazine Publishers Inc. Copyright ©2016 Condé Nast. All rights reserved. Printed in the USA. Volume 24, No. 5. wired (ISSN 1059–1028) is published monthly by Condé Nast, which is a division of Advance Magazine Publishers Inc. Editorial office: 520 Third Street, Ste. 305, San Francisco, CA 94107-1815. Principal office: Condé Nast, 1 World Trade Center, New York, NY 10007. S. I. Newhouse, Jr., Chairman Emeritus; Charles H. Townsend, Chairman; Robert A. Sauerberg, Jr., President and Chief Executive Officer; David E. Geithner, Chief Financial Officer; Jill Bright, Chief Administrative Officer. Periodicals postage paid at New York, NY, and at additional mailing offices. Canada Post Publications Mail Agreement No. 40644503. Canadian Goods and Services Tax Registration No. 123242885 RT0001. Canada Post: Return undeliverable Canadian addresses to PO Box 874, Station Main, Markham, ON L3P 8L4. POSTMASTER : Send all UAA to CFS (see DMM 707.4.12.5); NONPOSTAL AND MILITARY FACILITIES: Send address corrections to wired, P.O. Box 37706, Boone, IA 50037-0662. For subscriptions, address changes, adjustments, or back issue inquiries: Please write to wired, PO Box 37706, Boone, IA 50037–0662, call (800) 769 4733, or email email@example.com. Please give both new and old addresses as printed on most recent label. First copy of new subscription will be mailed within eight weeks after receipt of order. Address all editorial, business, and production correspondence to wired Magazine, 1 World Trade Center, New York, NY 10007. For permissions and reprint requests, please call (212) 630 5656 or fax requests to (212) 630 5883. Visit us online at www.wired.com. To subscribe to other Condé Nast magazines on the web, visit www.condenet.com. Occasionally, we make our subscriber list available to carefully screened companies that offer products and services that we believe would interest our readers. If you do not want to receive these offers and/or information, please advise us at PO Box 37706, Boone, IA 50037-0662, or call (800) 769 4733.
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BY PETER RUBIN
WHAT PENALTY SHOULD NON-ATHLETES PAY FOR THEIR SOCIAL FAUX PAS? SUBSTANCE ABUSE
OSTENTATIOUSLY OPENING A SOYLENT DURING A MEETING
WEARING SHOES WITH ARTICULATED TOES
MAKING “RICE CRISPR” JOKES
TEXTING WHILE DRIVING
30-DAY MASTER CLEANSE
$100 PER TOE ARTICULATED
SNAP, CRACKLE, PUNCH!
WAZE VOICE REPROGRAMMED TO PEWDIEPIE
INTERRUPTING CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR CALLING TOAST “ARTISANAL”
30-DAY RANCHDRESSING CLEANSE
CONFISCATION OF UNDEROOS COLLECTION
MARIJUANABASED FAUX PAS
PASSING DUTCHIE PON DI RIGHT-HAND SIDE
CONFISCATION OF MESH TANK TOPS
RIDING SCOOTER ON SIDEWALK
RIDING HOVERBOARD IN PUBLIC
STANDING IN AISLE WAITING FOR POST-CREDITS STINGER
AS A MINOR
AS A MINOR
FORCED VIEWING OF GREEN LANTERN
SCORCHED FEET DEEMED SUFFICIENT PUNISHMENT
AS AN ADULT
AS AN ADULT
VIRGINITY EXTENDED FIVE YEARS
TINDER PHOTO CHANGED TO DONALD TRUMP WITH MOUTHS FOR EYES
MANDATORY LASER REMOVAL OF ALL BICEPENCIRCLING TATTOOS
NAMING EVERY CHARACTER AS THEY APPEAR
WAXING RHAPSODIC ABOUT TERPENES
STASH REPLACED WITH DIRT WEED