Ethical hacking: saving society with computer code

As a form of civil disobedience, hacking can help make the world a better place.

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  • Hackers' motivations range from altruistic to nihilistic.
  • Altruistic hackers expose injustices, while nihilistic ones make society more dangerous.
  • The line between ethical and unethical hacking is not always clear.
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Are you following the rules of life?

Life is governed by unspoken rules. How do you know you're following them correctly?

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  • Most parts of everyday life involve accepting and applying various rules, from the words we speak to the cultural norms we insist on.
  • These rules are learned largely by observation of others and are very rarely taught explicitly.
  • Saul Kripke asks us how it is that we can ever be sure that we're following the rules correctly? And does it matter?
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Volcanoes to power bitcoin mining in El Salvador

The first nation to make bitcoin legal tender will use geothermal energy to mine it.

Credit: Aaron Thomas via Unsplash

This article was originally published on our sister site, Freethink.

In June 2021, El Salvador became the first nation in the world to make bitcoin legal tender. Soon after, President Nayib Bukele instructed a state-owned power company to provide bitcoin mining facilities with cheap, clean energy — harnessed from the country's volcanoes.

The challenge: Bitcoin is a cryptocurrency, a digital form of money and a payment system. Crypto has several advantages over physical dollars and cents — it's incredibly difficult to counterfeit, and transactions are more secure — but it also has a major downside.

Crypto transactions are recorded and new coins are added into circulation through a process called mining.

Crypto mining involves computers solving incredibly difficult mathematical puzzles. It is also incredibly energy-intensive — Cambridge University researchers estimate that bitcoin mining alone consumes more electricity every year than Argentina.

Most of that electricity is generated by carbon-emitting fossil fuels. As it stands, bitcoin mining produces an estimated 36.95 megatons of CO2 annually.

A world first: On June 9, El Salvador became the first nation to make bitcoin legal tender, meaning businesses have to accept it as payment and citizens can use it to pay taxes.

Less than a day later, Bukele tweeted that he'd instructed a state-owned geothermal electric company to put together a plan to provide bitcoin mining facilities with "very cheap, 100% clean, 100% renewable, 0 emissions energy."

Geothermal electricity is produced by capturing heat from the Earth itself. In El Salvador, that heat comes from volcanoes, and an estimated two-thirds of their energy potential is currently untapped.

Why it matters: El Salvador's decision to make bitcoin legal tender could be a win for both the crypto and the nation itself.

"(W)hat it does for bitcoin is further legitimizes its status as a potential reserve asset for sovereign and super sovereign entities," Greg King, CEO of crypto asset management firm Osprey Funds, told CBS News of the legislation.

Meanwhile, El Salvador is one of the poorest nations in North America, and bitcoin miners — the people who own and operate the computers doing the mining — receive bitcoins as a reward for their efforts.

"This is going to evolve fast!"
NAYIB BUKELE

If El Salvador begins operating bitcoin mining facilities powered by clean, cheap geothermal energy, it could become a global hub for mining — and receive a much-needed economic boost in the process.

The next steps: It remains to be seen whether Salvadorans will fully embrace bitcoin — which is notoriously volatile — or continue business-as-usual with the nation's other legal tender, the U.S. dollar.

Only time will tell if Bukele's plan for volcano-powered bitcoin mining facilities comes to fruition, too — but based on the speed of things so far, we won't have to wait long to find out.

Less than three hours after tweeting about the idea, Bukele followed up with another tweet claiming that the nation's geothermal energy company had already dug a new well and was designing a "mining hub" around it.

"This is going to evolve fast!" the president promised.

We are all conspiracy theorists

In each of our minds, we draw a demarcation line between beliefs that are reasonable and those that are nonsense. Where do you draw your line?

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Politics & Current Affairs
  • Conspiracy theories exist on a spectrum, from plausible and mainstream to fringe and unpopular.
  • It's very rare to find someone who only believes in one conspiracy theory. They generally believe in every conspiracy theory that's less extreme than their favorite one.
  • To some extent, we are all conspiracy theorists.
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Autonomous killer robots may have already killed on the battlefield

A brief passage from a recent UN report describes what could be the first-known case of an autonomous weapon, powered by artificial intelligence, killing in the battlefield.

Kargu-2 drone

STM
Politics & Current Affairs
  • Autonomous weapons have been used in war for decades, but artificial intelligence is ushering in a new category of autonomous weapons.
  • These weapons are not only capable of moving autonomously but also identifying and attacking targets on their own without oversight from a human.
  • There's currently no clear international restrictions on the use of new autonomous weapons, but some nations are calling for preemptive bans.
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The power of authority: how easily we do what we’re told

Milgram's experiment is rightly famous, but does it show what we think it does?

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Mind & Brain
  • In the 1960s, Stanley Milgram was sure that good, law-abiding Americans would never be able to follow orders like the Germans in the Holocaust.
  • His experiments proved him spectacularly wrong. They showed just how many of us are willing to do evil if only we're told to by an authority figure.
  • Yet, parts of the experiment were set up in such a way that we should perhaps conclude something a bit more nuanced.
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