National / International News
Of all the countries that have pledged money to the UN's $1 billion fund to fight Ebola, only Colombia has paid, the BBC reported, bringing the fund total to $100,000. There has been $20 million pledged to the fund, and $400 million given to other UN-affiliated organizations, but the main UN trust fund is bare.
There was a flurry of other Ebola news Friday morning: President Barack Obama appointed an "Ebola Czar," a Pentagon parking lot was shut down after a woman who had recently traveled to Africa began vomiting and the State Department announced that a healthcare worker who may have come in contact with the virus is on a cruise ship in Belize. We'll have more later today.
Here are some other stories we're reading - and numbers we're watching - Friday.$200 million
The valuation of anonymous messaging app Whisper, which transmits up to 2.6 million posts each day. In an exploration of deeper journalistic partnership with the company, the Guardian reported that Whisper tracks users' location data, even if they had specifically opted out. The company also reportedly zeros in on potentially "newsworthy" users, following their posts closely and tracking their movements.10
That's how many new movies based on DC Comics Warner Bros. announced this week, to be released between 2016 and 2020. That's an insane amount of movies, and a very bold bid to out-Marvel Marvel. Grantland has an informative but scathing breakdown of all the characters Warner will be adapting in pursuit of some sweet, sweet "Avengers" money.120,000 people
That's how many people are currently waiting for an organ transplant—only 8,200 people donated organs between January and July 2014. Bioethicist Sigrid Fry-Revere argues that the current law, which contains strict guidelines about how donors can be compensated for expenses related to their donation, is preventing patients from getting the treatment they need.
A Michigan battery start-up has been garnering lots of attention lately for a breakthrough. It addresses a key question on many people's minds: why do computer chips in our phones improve exponentially – under what is called Moore's Law – but our batteries die by lunchtime?
"You know, there are actually very few technology areas whose key performance index follows Moore's law," says Ann Marie Sastry, founder of the battery start-up Sakti3. "Do your clothes follow Moore's law in terms of how they last? Does interior paint?"
Building the battery of tomorrow is hard. It's up against certain limits of chemistry.
Sastry quit her engineering professor job at the University of Michigan to take it on. The company produces what are called solid-state batteries. There are no liquids inside to hog valuable space and weight. Just the essentials.
"In a liquid system, the liquid in your battery, or the gel in your battery, is only a highway for the ions to move to the active material," Sastry says. "And that is actually penalizing your energy density."
Energy density is the key concept – how much oomph can you pack in a light, tiny battery package. Sakti3's big moment came when it announced it smashed a key technical barrier: packing 1,000 units of energy – or kilowatt hours -- into one liter of volume.
"We were pretty thrilled because today's battery technologies are hovering around 600," Sastry says.
The upshot: a power source that can last almost twice as long, for half the price or less. Or in car terms, it pushes toward the goal of an electric vehicle with no range issues, at a price of about $25,000.
Right now, it's all potential. Sakti3 has to figure out large-scale production, which could take two years to market. Or more.
"Scientific discovery does not respect your timeline," says clean energy investor Matt Nordan, co-founder and managing partner at MNL Partners in Boston.
Nordan has seen many exciting lab announcements end up in the technology graveyard.
"You can sit down and lay out 'I'm going to do these experiments in this order with this many people over this many months, and I'm going to get to this answer,'" says Nordan. "And you know what, you might get it tomorrow morning, you might get it five years from now. You might get it never."
The notion of tomorrow, as in almost there, has been a tease of electric vehicles for decades.
Sakti3 founder Ann Marie SastryScott Tong/Marketplace
"The EV has been the car of tomorrow for 100 years," says business professor David Kirsch of the University of Maryland, author of "The Electric Vehicle and the Burden of History." "It's always been a day away. There have been predictions even in the modern era since the late 1960s about what the coming golden area of electric vehicles."
The key is a more competitive battery, but it's more than that. The incumbent liquid fuel – gasoline – is far more energy dense and some argue always will be. It's a liquid that's easy to transport down a pipeline and pour in your car. For all the carbon pollution minuses, gasoline has lots of everyday pluses.
Still, the challenge is not insurmountable, Sastry argues. She reads history more optimistically.
"When better technology becomes available, it can be adopted with breathtaking speed," Sastry says. "If you just look at the computing revolution, that's clear. Now we're in the cloud and that is revolutionary, and that's clear. Does portable high energy density power change everything? Yes. It changes everything."Scott Tong/Marketplace
She says her breakthrough battery may first show up in consumer electronics and wearable devices like smart watches.
But automaker GM has already invested in her ideas. And there are whispers Sakti3 is testing a "next-next-generation" product: a new material with even better properties than today's lithium.
The director of the FBI, James Comey, is criticizing the planned use of sophisticated encryption technology by companies such as Apple and Google. The technology would make data on phones inaccessible to any third party, so the companies couldn’t turn it over to law enforcement even if they wanted to or were served with a warrant.
Speaking at the Brookings Institution, Comey referred to the problem as “going dark”—where a target becomes invisible to law enforcement. “Those charged with protecting our people aren’t always able to access the evidence we need to prosecute crime and prevent terrorism, even with lawful authority,” he said. With unbreakable encryption, “we have the legal authority to intercept and access information pursuant to a court order, but we lack the technical ability to do that.”
In the past, Google’s CEO Eric Schmidt has implied the government has itself to blame, and that government surveillance excesses could cost U.S. companies their customers.
“It’s clear that the global community of internet users doesn’t like being caught up in the U.S. surveillance dragnet,” he said.
Revelations stemming from Edward Snowden’s leaking of classified information on government surveillance could cost companies like Google and Apple their bottom line. “Surveillance related consumer concerns could cost U.S. cloud service providers up to one-fifth of their foreign market share...this is going to cost America jobs,” said Schmidt.
Government intrusion is not the only customer concern about tech companies such as Apple and Google. Hackers have already demonstrated they can breach security at banks and department stores as well as at tech companies including Microsoft and Google.
“Any back door that the NSA or law enforcement builds into an encryption mechanism can also be exploited by hackers in the U.S. and abroad,” says Ginger McCall, Associate Director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center.
Comey argues that such security risks should not outweigh law enforcement’s need to protect the public.
Reflecting the current constellation of mistrust and concerns over privacy and security, McCall makes a similar argument: it doesn’t make sense to say we can’t eliminate all crime, therefore exposure of the public is desirable. “One or two outlier criminal cases are not a justification to subvert the privacy and security of the data of the entire nation.”