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The age of surveillance and Big Data is throwing up a new challenge to one of the oldest professions on the planet. We are talking the job of secret agent.
What's happening: Suddenly, the world's least open nations can marshal a lifetime of personal and location data on friend and foe from security cameras, social media and smart phones.
"If you go through any classic of spy fiction — le Carré, Fleming — almost anything they do would be impossible today because of technology," said Edward Lucas, a Russia specialist and author of "Spycraft Rebooted: How Technology is Changing Espionage."
I queried former U.S. intelligence analysts, all of whom said the secrecy profession will survive:
Yet Lucas catalogues the difficulties in an article for Foreign Policy. If he is right, it's not clear how many jobs are at risk: There are no public figures for how many spies the U.S. sends abroad, though in a January speech, CIA director Gina Haspel said she wants more of them.
Consider this example of the new world:
If you are a suddenly out-of-work spy, where do you go? Lucas suggests that former spies can pile into the private intelligence firms that have proliferated in New York and the Mayfair district in London.
I contacted the head of one such London firm, an acquaintance from my Central Asia days. He said that while he does employ two former intelligence agents, the rest of his approximately 30 case managers are varied. "In the private sector, you want multiple talents/skill sets — forensics accountants, former bankers and journalists, Caspian oil and gas specialists (!) etc.," he said.
One of Anki's robots. Photo courtesy Anki
Building robots is hard, but building a robotics company seems nearly impossible.
Kaveh writes: The latest in a spate of robotics companies to fold is Anki, the 9-year-old company that built cute robot companions and AI-powered toy race cars. It had raised more than $200 million in venture capital from top Silicon Valley firms and said last year it was nearing $100 million in revenue.
Things were looking good for Anki back in 2013 when it launched its first product, a nearly $200 toy race car and video game, onstage at an Apple keynote — an enormous platform.
This trajectory is familiar to robotics companies — especially those making social robots. In the past year, several firms that made them, like Jibo and Mayfield Robotics, closed their doors.
At a robotics summit hosted by TechCrunch earlier this month, several speakers discussed why building a robotics company is so hard.
There's not yet a clear signal that people want robots in their homes.
Go deeper: Why is so hard to build profitable robot companies? (IEEE Spectrum)
Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios
Whether you live in the democratic or authoritarian world, you are likely to be uneasy with the direction the internet has taken in the last few years.
"I think that for now, it’s possible that we’re headed into something that looks like a different version of the Cold War — but I think there is a chance to avoid that and I hope we figure out how to do that."
Why it matters: Experts are increasingly worried — and warning — about the dangers social media can pose to healthy societies.
Go deeper: Hear the episode where Ito says more about the birth of online communities and the open vs. closed internet.
Editor's note: Details of this podcast are available exclusively to Axios readers first through a partnership with Masters of Scale.
Photo: Lisa Werner/Getty
If not a single new person joins Facebook, it will take a half-century before the platform has more dead than living members, according to a strange new paper.
The paper, by Oxford researchers Carl Öhman and David Watson (h/t MIT Tech Review), finds that inflection point around the year 2070. In another three decades, 1.4 billion Facebook users will have died. At today's membership numbers, that would leave roughly 900,000 million still living.
Why they are counting dead Facebook users: Öhman and Watson are attempting to get a grip on a new Facebook effort to itself figure out what to do with a member's data after death.