Apple co-founder says we should ditch Facebook — permanently

Steve Wozniak doesn't know if his phone is listening, but he's minimizing risks.

Steve Wozniak
Photo by Bryan Steffy/Getty Images
  • Steve Wozniak didn't hold back his feelings about the social media giant when stopped at an airport.
  • The Apple co-founder admitted that devices spying on his conversations is worrisome.
  • Wozniak deleted his Facebook account last year, recommending that "most people" should do the same.

When most people are stopped at an airport, they're unlikely to chat about the news of the day. Perhaps Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak was early for his flight. He recently took a few moments out to talk with a TMZ reporter while walking through D.C.'s Reagan National Airport to tell them to beware of listening cell phones, as well as to delete their Facebook account.

"There are many different kinds of people, and some the benefits of Facebook are worth the loss of privacy. But to many like myself, my recommendation is — to most people — you should figure out a way to get off Facebook."

The initial context of the conversation was privacy. This is an issue that affects us all, being that your information is for sale for as little as $10, and the sellers are unconcerned about the identity of the purchasers. Wozniak mentioned the news that Alexa (along with Google Assistant) is not only recording your conversations, but that employees are listening in. Corporate claims that tuning in to private user dialogues helps improve technical capabilities. We should be very wary of such claims.

Then again, spying via audio almost seems quaint compared to the patent Amazon filed that would allow their fleet of home-delivery drones to record video of your private property and feed it into your personal algorithm. Does that tree appear to be dying? Suddenly, your feed is filled with fertilizer options. What Would Wozniak Do about that?

Steve Wozniak Warns People to Get Off Facebook Over Privacy Concerns

The reporter never got that deep into the rabbit hole, though Wozniak sums up his privacy concerns:

"I worry because you're having conversations that you think are private, you're saying words that shouldn't be listened to because you don't expect it, but there's almost no way to stop it. People think they have a level of privacy they don't."

A 2014 Pew poll paints a different landscape: 91 percent of Americans either "agree" or "strongly agree" that we've lost control over our personal information to social media companies. Eighty percent of users worry how governments and businesses will use those data.

A 2017 Pew poll complemented that poll perfectly: only 9 percent of Americans feel "very confident" that said companies protect their data. That's the same percentage of people that believe they have "a lot of control" over their information. Chalk up 9 percent to the clueless.

Yet we stay logged in. While a 2018 Pew poll on social media discovered that 59 percent of Americans claim it would "not be difficult" to abandon these platforms, many do not. In 2017, the same agency found that even as public trust in social media companies lessens, more people are plugging into this "new normal." We know it's happening; we just refuse to give up our apps. The question remains: Do the benefits outweigh the costs?

Recent news revealed that Amazon employees are listening in to private conversations via Alexa.

Photo by Andrew Matthews/PA Images via Getty Images

Wozniak deleted his Facebook account in 2018; he is still very active on Twitter. As with many tech companies, Facebook advertises its product as "free." Obviously, that's not the case.

Wozniak floats the notion of paying for privacy, though as a 2019 study, published in Nature Human Behavior, states, we might well be beyond that point already. The early promise of the internet of an "interconnected world" has truly arrived, for better and mostly worse. The research team behind the study analyzed over 30 million posts by nearly 14,000 Twitter users.

"With this data, they showed that information within the Twitter messages from 8 or 9 of a person's contacts make it possible to predict that person's later tweets as accurately as if they were looking directly at that person's own Twitter feed."

Blockchain solutions are touting better privacy controls on data, but we have not reached that point — nor are we sure these companies will be as benevolent as claimed once their tech scales, a persistent problem with these platforms. Hopes of a truly decentralized infrastructure are turning out to be more philosophical than realistic, though that doesn't mean advances in privacy protection won't arrive. It will likely just not be a romantic as promised.

Even if we're connected to others online, there are levels of control we can initiate. The simplest would be deleting Facebook (or another other platform you're concerned about). It seems to be working out for the Apple co-founder. Where this conversation leads, however, is anyone's guess.

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Stay in touch with Derek on Twitter and Facebook.

U.S. Navy controls inventions that claim to change "fabric of reality"

Inventions with revolutionary potential made by a mysterious aerospace engineer for the U.S. Navy come to light.

U.S. Navy ships

Credit: Getty Images
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  • U.S. Navy holds patents for enigmatic inventions by aerospace engineer Dr. Salvatore Pais.
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Meet Dr. Jennifer Doudna: she's leading the biotech revolution

She helped create CRISPR, a gene-editing technology that is changing the way we treat genetic diseases and even how we produce food.

Courtesy of Jennifer Doudna
Technology & Innovation

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

Last year, Jennifer Doudna and Emmanuelle Charpentier became the first all-woman team to win the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for their work developing CRISPR-Cas9, the gene-editing technology. The technology was invented in 2012 — and nine years later, it's truly revolutionizing how we treat genetic diseases and even how we produce food.

CRISPR allows scientists to alter DNA by using proteins that are naturally found in bacteria. They use these proteins, called Cas9, to naturally fend off viruses, destroying the virus' DNA and cutting it out of their genes. CRISPR allows scientists to co-opt this function, redirecting the proteins toward disease-causing mutations in our DNA.

So far, gene-editing technology is showing promise in treating sickle cell disease and genetic blindness — and it could eventually be used to treat all sorts of genetic diseases, from cancer to Huntington's Disease.

The biotech revolution is just getting started — and CRISPR is leading the charge. We talked with Doudna about what we can expect from genetic engineering in the future.

This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.

Freethink: You've said that your journey to becoming a scientist had humble beginnings — in your teenage bedroom when you discovered The Double Helix by Jim Watson. Back then, there weren't a lot of women scientists — what was your breakthrough moment in realizing you could pursue this as a career?

Dr. Jennifer Doudna: There is a moment that I often think back to from high school in Hilo, Hawaii, when I first heard the word "biochemistry." A researcher from the UH Cancer Center on Oahu came and gave a talk on her work studying cancer cells.

I didn't understand much of her talk, but it still made a huge impact on me. You didn't see professional women scientists in popular culture at the time, and it really opened my eyes to new possibilities. She was very impressive.

I remember thinking right then that I wanted to do what she does, and that's what set me off on the journey that became my career in science.

CRISPR 101: Curing Sickle Cell, Growing Organs, Mosquito Makeovers | Jennifer Doudna | Big Think www.youtube.com

Freethink: The term "CRISPR" is everywhere in the media these days but it's a really complicated tool to describe. What is the one thing that you wish people understood about CRISPR that they usually get wrong?

Dr. Jennifer Doudna: People should know that CRISPR technology has revolutionized scientific research and will make a positive difference to their lives.

Researchers are gaining incredible new understanding of the nature of disease, evolution, and are developing CRISPR-based strategies to tackle our greatest health, food, and sustainability challenges.

Freethink: You previously wrote in Wired that this year, 2021, is going to be a big year for CRISPR. What exciting new developments should we be on the lookout for?

Dr. Jennifer Doudna: Before the COVID-19 pandemic, there were multiple teams around the world, including my lab and colleagues at the Innovative Genomics Institute, working on developing CRISPR-based diagnostics.

"Traits that we could select for using traditional breeding methods, that might take decades, we can now engineer precisely in a much shorter time."
DR. JENNIFER DOUDNA

When the pandemic hit, we pivoted our work to focus these tools on SARS-CoV-2. The benefit of these new diagnostics is that they're fast, cheap, can be done anywhere without the need for a lab, and they can be quickly modified to detect different pathogens. I'm excited about the future of diagnostics, and not just for pandemics.

We'll also be seeing more CRISPR applications in agriculture to help combat hunger, reduce the need for toxic pesticides and fertilizers, fight plant diseases and help crops adapt to a changing climate.

Traits that we could select for using traditional breeding methods, that might take decades, we can now engineer precisely in a much shorter time.

Freethink: Curing genetic diseases isn't a pipedream anymore, but there are still some hurdles to cross before we're able to say for certain that we can do this. What are those hurdles and how close do you think we are to crossing them?

Dr. Jennifer Doudna: There are people today, like Victoria Gray, who have been successfully treated for sickle cell disease. This is just the tip of the iceberg.

There are absolutely still many hurdles. We don't currently have ways to deliver genome-editing enzymes to all types of tissues, but delivery is a hot area of research for this very reason.

We also need to continue improving on the first wave of CRISPR therapies, as well as making them more affordable and accessible.

Freethink: Another big challenge is making this technology widely available to everyone and not just the really wealthy. You've previously said that this challenge starts with the scientists.

Dr. Jennifer Doudna: A sickle cell disease cure that is 100 percent effective but can't be accessed by most of the people in need is not really a full cure.

This is one of the insights that led me to found the Innovative Genomics Institute back in 2014. It's not enough to develop a therapy, prove that it works, and move on. You have to develop a therapy that actually meets the real-world need.

Too often, scientists don't fully incorporate issues of equity and accessibility into their research, and the incentives of the pharmaceutical industry tend to run in the opposite direction. If the world needs affordable therapy, you have to work toward that goal from the beginning.

Freethink: You've expressed some concern about the ethics of using CRISPR. Do you think there is a meaningful difference between enhancing human abilities — for example, using gene therapy to become stronger or more intelligent — versus correcting deficiencies, like Type 1 diabetes or Huntington's?

Dr. Jennifer Doudna: There is a meaningful distinction between enhancement and treatment, but that doesn't mean that the line is always clear. It isn't.

There's always a gray area when it comes to complex ethical issues like this, and our thinking on this is undoubtedly going to evolve over time.

What we need is to find an appropriate balance between preventing misuse and promoting beneficial innovation.

Freethink: What if it turns out that being physically stronger helps you live a longer life — if that's the case, are there some ways of improving health that we should simply rule out?

Dr. Jennifer Doudna: The concept of improving the "healthspan" of individuals is an area of considerable interest. Eliminating neurodegenerative disease will not only massively reduce suffering around the world, but it will also meaningfully increase the healthy years for millions of individuals.

"There is a meaningful distinction between enhancement and treatment, but that doesn't mean that the line is always clear. It isn't."
DR. JENNIFER DOUDNA

There will also be knock-on effects, such as increased economic output, but also increased impact on the planet.

When you think about increasing lifespans just so certain people can live longer, then not only do those knock-on effects become more central, you also have to ask who is benefiting and who isn't? Is it possible to develop this technology so the benefits are shared equitably? Is it environmentally sustainable to go down this road?

Freethink: Where do you see it going from here?

Dr. Jennifer Doudna: The bio revolution will allow us to create breakthroughs in treating not just a few but whole classes of previously unaddressed genetic diseases.

We're also likely to see genome editing play a role not just in climate adaptation, but in climate change solutions as well. There will be challenges along the way both expected and unexpected, but also great leaps in progress and benefits that will move society forward. It's an exciting time to be a scientist.

Freethink: If you had to guess, what is the first disease you think we are most likely to cure, in the real world, with CRISPR?

Dr. Jennifer Doudna: Because of the progress that has already been made, sickle cell disease and beta-thalassemia are likely to be the first diseases with a CRISPR cure, but we're closely following the developments of other CRISPR clinical trials for types of cancer, a form of congenital blindness, chronic infection, and some rare genetic disorders.

The pace of clinical trials is picking up, and the list will be longer next year.

Ancient megalodon shark was even bigger than estimated, finds study

A school lesson leads to more precise measurements of the extinct megalodon shark, one of the largest fish ever.

Megalodon attacks a seal.

Credit: Catmando / Adobe Stock.
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  • A new method estimates the ancient megalodon shark was as long as 65 feet.
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