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Michael Schrage: Is it the Government's Duty to Defend Citizens from Cyber Attacks?

Innovation expert Michael Schrage explores the major questions that have risen from the recent Sony hack. He questions whether hacking and cyberattacks should be treated as mere misdemeanors or as more serious affronts to personal freedom.

Michael Schrage: The Sony hack is a very interesting phenomenon. I think it sort of brings home some of the issues that people in other countries face. The way, for example, North Koreans have hacked South Korea and South Korean financial institutions. And Russians have hacked Ukrainian and Estonian institutions. The whole notion of cyberconflict either as a low-level or high-level conflict has become more and more important and more and more top of mind. And I think the most important takeaway is twofold. One is that "ordinary citizens" should be concerned about whether their data assets — and that includes everything from their social security numbers to their bank accounts to the way their mortgage is held. They should be concerned about how adequately protected that is. But not just — and this is important — not just by the financial institution or the retail institution, but by government. To what extent is protecting American data assets in the U.S. and abroad the obligation and the duty of the government? How well-protected are we in that regard? I believe this is a policy and a question of great, not just national import, but global import because America is a leading nation both in terms of technology and in terms of vulnerability and it raises important questions about what constitutes self-defense in this regard.

Do we run into the situation that we just say, "Well this is a crime so we’ll just have the FBI and law enforcement handle it."? Or is it something else? And, you know, I’m not a lawyer nor do I care to be one, but I think we want to be really, really, really, really, really careful about saying something like, "Oh, it’s just an act of vandalism," or, "Oh, it’s just a misdemeanor." When, in fact, it’s more threatening than that and we may be hurting the safety and security of our citizens by minimizing the kind of threats that are involved here. One last thing I’m going to say here is there is an analogy here, for those people familiar with policing, of a famous broken windows arguments, which is, you know, it’s a low-level crime, ignore it. And crime rates began to drop when we stopped ignoring seemingly minor infractions of the law. When we invested as a society in norms that demanded something other than the absence of, you know, just ignoring things at the margin, but demanding respect for the law. And this, in my view, this is as true outside of the borders of the United States as it is inside the border of the United States. And it’s particularly true when people come across the border of the United States to destroy, to destroy. "Vandalization" is a cute word — to destroy the assets of Americans in the United States. Not cool.

Directed / Produced by Jonathan Fowler and Elizabeth Rodd

Part of the reason you pay taxes is because the government needs to fund programs necessary for accomplishing its most fundamental goal: to protect its citizens' rights and freedoms. Innovation expert Michael Schrage asks how far that responsibility extends into cyberspace. Just as the U.S. government will go after someone who crosses a border to commit heinous crimes, shouldn't it also be obligated to defend its citizens who find themselves the victims of cyberattacks?


"To what extent is protecting American data assets in the U.S. and abroad the obligation and the duty of the government? How well-protected are we in that regard? I believe this is a policy and a question of great, not just national import, but global import because America is a leading nation both in terms of technology and in terms of vulnerability and it raises important questions about what constitutes self-defense in this regard."

Remote learning vs. online instruction: How COVID-19 woke America up to the difference

Educators and administrators must build new supports for faculty and student success in a world where the classroom might become virtual in the blink of an eye.

Credit: Shutterstock
Sponsored by Charles Koch Foundation
  • If you or someone you know is attending school remotely, you are more than likely learning through emergency remote instruction, which is not the same as online learning, write Rich DeMillo and Steve Harmon.
  • Education institutions must properly define and understand the difference between a course that is designed from inception to be taught in an online format and a course that has been rapidly converted to be offered to remote students.
  • In a future involving more online instruction than any of us ever imagined, it will be crucial to meticulously design factors like learner navigation, interactive recordings, feedback loops, exams and office hours in order to maximize learning potential within the virtual environment.
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White dwarfs hold key to life in the universe, suggests study

New study shows white dwarf stars create an essential component of life.

NASA and H. Richer (University of British Columbia)
Surprising Science
  • White dwarf stars create carbon atoms in the Milky Way galaxy, shows new study.
  • Carbon is an essential component of life.
  • White dwarfs make carbon in their hot insides before the stars die.
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"Forced empathy" is a powerful negotiation tool. Here's how to do it.

Master negotiator Chris Voss breaks down how to get what you want during negotiations.

Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images
Personal Growth
  • Former FBI negotiator Chris Voss explains how forced empathy is a powerful negotiating tactic.
  • The key is starting a sentence with "What" or "How," causing the other person to look at the situation through your eyes.
  • What appears to signal weakness is turned into a strength when using this tactic.
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Octopus-like creatures inhabit Jupiter’s moon, claims space scientist

A leading British space scientist thinks there is life under the ice sheets of Europa.

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SETI Institute
Surprising Science
  • A British scientist named Professor Monica Grady recently came out in support of extraterrestrial life on Europa.
  • Europa, the sixth largest moon in the solar system, may have favorable conditions for life under its miles of ice.
  • The moon is one of Jupiter's 79.
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How to catch a glimpse of Comet NEOWISE before it’s gone

Unless you plan to try again in 6,800 years, this week is your shot.

Image source: Sven Brandsma/Unsplash
Surprising Science
  • Comet NEOWISE will be most visible in the U.S. during the evenings from July 14-19, 2020.
  • After July 23rd, NEOWISE will be visible only through good binoculars and telescopes.
  • Look in the northwestern sky below the Big Dipper after dusk while there's a chance.

UPDATE: NASA is broadcasting a NASA Science Live episode highlighting Comet NEOWISE. NASA experts will discuss and answer public questions beginning at 3PM EST on Wednesday, July 15. Tune in via the agency's website, Facebook Live, YouTube, Periscope, LinkedIn, Twitch, or USTREAM.

Before last evening, July 14, 2020, the easiest way to see Comet NEOWISE — the brightest comet to zoom past Earth since 1977's Comet Hale-Bopp — from the United States was to catch it about an hour before sunrise. Now, however, you can see it in the evening, where it will remain for until the 19th. This is a definite don't-miss event — NEOWISE won't be coming back our way for another 6,800 years. It's the first major comet of the millennium, and by all accounts, it's unforgettable.

NEOWISE just got back from the Sun

Comet NEOWISE is named after the NASA infrared space telescope that first spotted it on March 27th. Its official moniker is C/2020 F3. It's estimated that the icy comet is about three miles across, not counting its tail.

NEOWISE is now heading away from our Sun, having made it closet approach, 27.4 million miles, to our star on July 3. The heat from that encounter is what's given NEOWISE its tail: It caused gas and dust to be released from the icy object, creating the tail of debris that looks so magical from here.

As NEOWISE moves closer to Earth, paradoxically, it will be less and less visible. By about July 23rd, you'll need binoculars or a telescope to see it at all. All of which makes this week prime time.

An evening delight

star constellation in sky

Image source: Allexxandar/Shutterstock/Big Think

First, find an unobstructed view of the northwest sky, free of streetlights, car headlights, apartment lights, and so on. And then, according to Sky & Telescope:

"Start looking about one hour after sunset, when you'll find it just over the northwestern horizon as the last of twilight fades into darkness."

It should be easy to spot since it's near to one of the most recognizable constellations up there, the Big Dipper. "Look about three fists below the bottom of the Big Dipper, which is hanging down by its handle high above, and from there perhaps a little to the right." Et voilà: Comet NEOWISE.

Says Sky & Telescope's Diana Hannikainen, "Look for a faint, fuzzy little 'star' with a fainter, fuzzier little tail extending upward from it."

The comet should be visible with the naked eye, though binoculars and a simple telescope may reveal more detail.

You may also be able to snap a photo of this special visitor, though you'll need the right gear to do so. A dedicated camera is more likely to capture a good shot than a telephone, but in either case, you'll need a tripod or some other means of holding the camera dead still as it takes a timed exposure of several seconds (not all phones can do this).

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