Thanks for subscribing to Axios Future. Consider inviting your friends and colleagues to sign up.
I'm filling in for Steve LeVine, who is on vacation. Please send me your feedback. Just reply to this email or send me a note at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios
If Liran Sorani has his way, the dark web — a hidden internet badlands populated by hackers, drug runners, gun traffickers, pornographers and human parts merchants — will one day also be a haven for ordinary folk seeking privacy away from Facebook, Steve LeVine writes.
Why it matters: Facebook is under intense pressure in the U.S. and Europe for its role in the Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election and its general failure to safeguard user data. The dark web is a possible alternative.
What's going on: When most people want to use the internet, they go on Google, Facebook, or — if they are in China — Baidu or WeChat. But it's different if you are surfing for tools to, say, unleash a bot attack and reap some ransomeware profit.
The intrigue: The dark web is full of people just seeking anonymity, often from dangerous regimes, but it's also a place where many take advantage of that anonymity to commit crime. It can be as exceedingly treacherous and spooky as it sounds — the unsuspecting can be ambushed in super-unpleasant ways.
That's why the idea of it becoming a safe ground for Facebook refugees is counter-intuitive: if you are lulled into the wrong place, you could end up in a cyberattack, or subject to much more sophisticated, unpoliced scams than are seen on the public internet, with no recourse since everything is so shadowy.
But Sorani predicts blockchain will change all that. He suggests it will evolve into an easy tool accessed through a mobile app or browser and provide a "gateway that will seamlessly connect you to the (dark) network." He tells Axios:
"Facebook for me is like a nation. It has a policy. They define the policy. But with blockchain, nobody can shut it down. It belongs to the community. It will be free of censorship."— Liran Sorani
Go darker: Read the full story.
Rural counties — particularly in the Midwest and Northeast of the U.S. — are losing people due to higher death rates than birth rates and more people moving away than moving in, Axios' Stef Kight reports.
The big picture: If the trend continues, it validates one part of the equation for a long-held presumption among demographers — as forecast, rural counties have lost population even while the overall number of people living in the U.S. continues to grow. But that may not mean we are urbanizing en masse.
What it means: "Barring a significant reversal in the next few years," Richard Fry of the Pew Research Center tells Axios, "the share of the population living in rural counties will be less than it was in 2010 ... Rural clout in Congress and the electoral college will be diminished."
[UNSUPPORTED BLOCK TYPE: header-four]
Go deeper: Read the full post.
A welder takes measurements at a construction site. Photo: Ben McCanna/Portland Press Herald via Getty Images
The rise of automation is hurting middle-skills jobs — those that require some training beyond a high school degree but not a bachelor's degree, Axios' Erica Pandey writes.
Yes, but: Not all middle-skills jobs are created equal. Some entry-level positions — human resources assistant or computer support specialist — are full of opportunities for advancement and a middle class lifestyle.
What's happening: Technology is rapidly changing the nature of middle-skills jobs, and employers, educators and policymakers are still playing catch-up, Manjari Raman, program director of Harvard Business School's Project on Managing the Future of Work, tells Axios.
What this means: A dental hygienist works in a lifetime job, while a manufacturing inspector's job is static. Neither have much scope for advancement, but the dental hygienist has career longevity.
Some good news: 37% of the middle-skills workforce is in business and IT, where there's ample opportunity for advancement.
Go deeper: Read the full story.
Illustration: Axios Visuals
During the Cold War era, the American government was able to closely monitor and prepare for advances in chemistry and physics. Now, some researchers say the U.S. needs to do the same for future threats from engineered organisms, Eileen Drage O'Reilly reports.
What's happening: DNA sequencing tools and other advances like CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing have made it easier to modify and recreate bacteria and viruses.
Threat level: Synthetic biology, which can help fight diseases and produce improved food and fuel, can also already be weaponized in part, warned a group of researchers Tuesday in presenting their 200+ page report to the Department of Defense.
"The next question is, how can DOD, HHS and others tweak their program to match the threats down the road."— Diane DiEuliis, committee member and senior research fellow at National Defense University
The top three concerns:
1. Recreating known pathogens. New technologies enable any mammalian virus to be recreated, and databases like GenBank have made the genomes of known human viruses open to the public.
2. Making existing bacteria more dangerous. "We've known how to modify bacteria for a long time," Michael Imperiale, chair of the committee, said at the press conference. "And we have the tools to make it antibiotic resistant."
3. Making biochemicals via microbes living on the skin or in the gut. Imperiale, a professor of microbiology and immunology at the University of Michigan's Medical School, says someone could take an organism found regularly in the gut, engineer it so that it becomes toxic to humans, and then figure out a way to deliver it.
Go deeper: Read the entire post.
Illustration: Lazaro Gamio/Axios
A prosthesis with e-dermis on its fingertips picks up an object. Photo: Osborn et al., Sci. Robot. 3, eaat3818 (2018)
Today's prosthetic devices don't allow users to perceive touch but a group of scientists have now developed a skin for them to capture a range of sensations we experience, including pain for the first time.
"Pain is a crucial part of our senses," says Luke Osborn, a graduate student at Johns Hopkins University. It is our way of protecting ourselves from further damage and gauging safety, he added.
What they did: Osborn and his colleague created an electronic skin, or "e-dermis," that fits over a prosthetic hand. Like the human type, the engineered dermis has two layers that together mimic receptors on our body and capture a range of touch sensations, including pain.
The big picture: Over the past decade, researchers have gained a better understanding of our "highly complex sense" of touch and worked on ways to add it to prosthetics, says Paul Marasco, a neurophysiologist at the Cleveland Clinic. Now, he says, they are starting to trickle out of the research environment and into the clinical realm.
One more thing: Osborn says the ability to sense pain could be useful for robots. It might allow them to differentiate between something that's potentially damaging and something that isn't, giving them more human-like touch.
Go deeper: Read the full story.