2019 List


Click the links below to read more about each issue and get links to news stories and other resources. 

The datafication of children: Sharing any information about your children could put their future at risk
Researchers are now concerned that we now have an entire generation of young people who have been datafied even before birth. Parents posting ultrasound photos and delivery room updates are giving away precious information about names, dates of birth, and other identifying information.

Pet cloning: Just because you can doesn’t mean you should.
No company will guarantee that your pet will act or even look like the original. While the process produces a genetically identical version of your pet, you can only be certain of getting the same breed and sex. Technically, they will be genetically predisposed to the same behaviors and learning capabilities, but just as with identical twins of any species, this could result in a radically different pet.

DIY neurohacking: Don’t try this at home
There are nearly a dozen neurostimulation devices on the market that allow you to zap your brain with a small electrical current in the hopes of improving your cognitive function. But you can also find instructions online to build your own devices. 
The dangers are obvious. The science is shoddy, the risks are unknown, vulnerable people are being encouraged to build and use devices that could cause everything from slight burns now to cognitive issues down the line.

Sidewalk Labs: Not everyone wants to reshape the way they live and work
We’ve been trying to build so-called “smart cities” for nearly 20 years, but it’s only in the last couple of months that engineers have implemented suites of upgrades that use interconnected sensors to monitor traffic, pedestrians, weather, pollution, building occupancy, and sewage. The goal is to create a more efficient city, making life easier for everyone.
But how do we protect people’s privacy when everything is being measured?

Insect allies: Security measure or biological weapon? 
There are reasons to be excited about Project Insect Allies. With climate change affecting food sources around the world, these bugs could allow us to deliver genes that make crops more resilient. This can help prevent food shortages and famines. There’s a potential humanitarian angle to this.
But like so many technologies that can help save us, there’s the potential to doom us as well.

Autonomous translation: Hey Siri, do my Spanish homework
New deep-learning AI programs are designed to solve the problem of immediate, on-the-ground translation for people who need to communicate and act on important information when a translator is not available. But who is responsible when AI translations go horribly awry, resulting in lost money or lives?

Behavioral biometrics: Companies track the way you walk, talk, and swipe
The monitoring of hand-eye coordination, the angle at which you hold your device, finger pressure, hand tremors, navigation patterns, and other hand movements are being used to judge how familiar people are with the apps they’re using as well as how well they know the information they’re typing in.

5G: Better, faster, less sustainable, less secure? 
5G sounds great until you realize your current devices don’t have the capability to utilize it and you’ll likely have to upgrade everything from your phone to your smart doorbell. Where does all that perfectly good tech end up once you’ve disposed of it?

The Suicide Machine: Should any rational person be given the right to die?
At the 2018 Funeral Fair in Amsterdam, Australian euthanasia activist Philip Nitschke revealed his new invention “The Sarco,” short for sarcophagus. The 3-D printed Sarco is shaped like a coffin and hooked up to a large nitrogen container. It looks like a futuristic space pod, and that’s on purpose, as it’s meant to evoke feelings of flying off into the great beyond. If a person makes the decision to commit suicide, is this a better method than others, especially if other methods can traumatize bystanders and rescue workers?

Seeding trials: It’s marketing, not science
Seeding trials are technically clinical trials, but ones in which the goal is not to test the efficacy of a drug but rather to suggest new uses to doctors so they can have scientific data to support their off-label usage. These trials are marketing ploys, for lack of a more technical phrase.
In a normal pharmaceutical trial, researchers test the hypothesis that a drug works a certain way by monitoring its use in a large group of patients and then comparing their outcomes to a control group who didn’t take the drug. Seeding trials, on the other hand, often use small groups of patients, can be unblinded, and even lack control groups because the goal is not to collect valuable scientific information.
Of course, there are cases where some good has come of these trials and new uses have been discovered. But does that justify the cost, the risk, and the willful disregard of appropriate protocol?