This last week in cyberpunk we saw Google put academics on the defensive, got our contacts stolen, and were reminded that the revolution is still going. Let’s get to the news.
Google Silences Think Tank Criticism
It’s pretty common for big tech companies to reach out to think tanks in search of new perspectives. But, as many in The New America Foundation are learning, not all opinions are welcome.
Eric Schmidt, Executive Chairman of Alphabet, Google’s parent company, and former chairman of New America, had an unpleasant reaction to an opinion posted by the think tank. After Google was fined $2.7 billion for violating the European Union’s antitrust rules, an analyst at New America voiced their support for the ruling against a longtime partner that has funded the think tank with tens of millions. Schmidt reportedly communicated his displeasure to New America president Anne-Marie Slaughter.
After it was pulled down for several hours, then reposted without comment, Barry Lynn, the researcher who authored the think piece in support of the fine, was reprimanded by Slaughter. Lynn, who was at the head of the Open Markets initiative, analyzing the business practices of tech companies and telecoms, was told that it was time for him and New America to part ways. When asked for an explanation for his firing, Slaughter told Lynn via email that it had nothing to do with his support for the EU fine but that he was “imperiling the institution as a whole.”
“Google is very aggressive in throwing its money around Washington and Brussels, and then pulling the strings,” Lynn said in a recent interview. “People are so afraid of Google now.”
Sarahah Uploads User Data Without Consent
Sarahah joined a number of anonymous messaging apps and quickly gained a following, especially among iOS users. With a user base greater than 18 million, Sarahah became the third most downloaded app for iPhones and iPads. These users thought they were using a secure communication channel but they were actually providing contact information like emails and phone numbers that were collected without alerting the user. Senior security analyst at Bishop Fox Zachary Julian discovered the surreptitious activity and found that even accounts that have been inactive for days still have their address books searched for any new contacts.
OurMine Takes Over Wikileaks Homepage
For a group that deals with the tech-literate, Wikileaks was quite foolish when it issued a challenge to hacker group OurMine. This is the same group that added to HBO’s cybersecurity woes earlier this month.
On Thursday morning, the Wikileaks homepage was replaced with a banner that read:
Hi, it’s OurMine (Security Group), don’t worry we are just testing your…. blablablab, oh wait, this is not a security test! Wikileaks, remember when you challenged us to hack you?
Wikileaks responded by calling the story “fake news.” However, cached Google results for “Wikileaks” reveals the message:
Anonymous, remember when you tried to dox us with fake information for attacking wikileaks? https://twitter.com/YourAnonNews/status/679472812013301762.” on the link to their official site.
The message is taken directly from the OurMine banner.
For now, it seems OurMine only defaced the homepage and nothing more, but perhaps Wikileaks will exercise a bit more caution in the future when touting their cyber-security expertise.
Welcome to the Era of Personalized Immunotherapy
This week the FDA approved a first-of-its-kind, personalized gene-therapy treatment for childhood leukemia. The treatment is approved for children and young adults battling an aggressive form of leukemia that has resisted prior treatments or relapsed, leaving them with few options. The technology used to genetically alter patients own T-cells, reprogramming them to recognize and attack cancer cells, was pioneered by University of Pennsylvania and licensed to Novartis in 2012. Doctors harvest patients T-cells in a procedure similar to blood donation, then freeze and ship them to Novartis’ site in New Jersey. The cells are then modified using a viral vector that reprograms the T-cells to multiply (up to 10,000 times each, according to tests) and attack tumor cells that express CD19. These super-hunter T-cells are ready to be shipped back to the patient in just a few weeks for treatment. This, of course, assumes that you’re able to pay the nearly half a million dollar price tag. It does come with a kind of guarantee though, if patients don’t respond to treatment within the first month, they won’t be required to pay.
Although it’s no chemotherapy or bone marrow transplant (treatments which we are all looking forward to going the way of bloodletting and amputation), it’s not without significant, life-threatening side effects. The immune system is a bit like an old dragon: poke at your own risk. And this is a bit more than a poke. Most patients (over 80%) had to endure at least mild overstimulation of the immune system and nearly half had life-threatening overreactions, which can include dangerously high fevers, plummeting blood pressure, seizures and even organ damage, especially to the heart and liver. While no patients died from these side effects during clinical trials, the FDA did decide to limit the treatments to specialized centers with adequately trained physicians. A trial of 63 individuals saw an 83% remission rate after three months, and although some of those did later relapse, it’s still a huge success given that all of these patients had previously failed to respond to traditional therapy. This treatment is just the first in a wave of gene therapies. More than 550 types of experimental gene therapy are being studied, according to FDA commissioner, Dr. Scott Gottlieb.
Light-Powered Nanomachines Kill Cancer Cells
A hot Nature paper this week debuts a new and extreme way to kill cells: using nanomachines to drill through their cell membranes. These impossibly tiny machines can target certain cells (such as cancer cells) using a short peptide sequence, then adsorb into the lipid bilayer. Once there, UV light can be used to power the molecular motor that rotates at two to three million times per second, opening the membrane and killing the cell.
Molecular machines are far, far from being the cyberpunk nanobots of our fantasies and nightmares, but they are slowly gaining traction. The Nobel Prize in Chemistry was awarded in 2016 to three scientists for their pioneering work in the field. While the recent work on opening cell membranes has been limited to in vitro work that requires direct high energy light, the authors hint that work is being done to move towards power their machines with other, less invasive methods. These developments are going to be key as they also are working towards in vivo experiments. Molecular machines have a long, long way to go, but we can’t help being excited about their new directions and applications.
The Exodus of Trump’s Cybersecurity Advisors
Eight of the 28 currently sitting Cybersecurity Advisors, known as the National Infrastructure Advisory Council (NIAC), for the US Government have resigned in the wake of what they describe as “insufficient attention to the growing threats to the cybersecurity of the critical systems upon which all Americans depend, including those impacting the systems supporting our democratic election process.” Many of those who resigned were appointed during the Obama Administration including House Chief Data Scientist DJ Patil, Office of Science and Technology Policy Chief of Staff Cristin Dorgelo and White House Council on Environmental Quality Managing Director Christy Goldfuss. We’ll have to see what happens in the future of “The Cyber” as Trump calls it.
Jolt Cola is Coming Back
If you are a long time reader of Neon Dystopia, you may already know that we are big fans of Jolt Cola. It has been an endangered brand for some time, but now it is coming back and will be available in Dollar Generals across the USA starting on Septemeber 21st, and with real sugar – none of that corn syrup stuff.
Blade Runner 2049
This week, in addition to the first of three short film prequels (first one below), two new TV Spots were released with a small amount of new footage from Blade Runner 2049. Another reveal is that the film will have a runtime of two hours and 32 minutes, plus another 11 minutes for credits. Blade Runner 2049 comes to theaters October 6th.
Blade Runner: The Final Cut Blu-ray Reveals Lost Opening
Due out next week is Blade Runner: The Final Cut comes out on Blu-ray. In addition to the remastered film is a trove of new information about this decades old film that hasn’t been shared before, like learning that Rutger Hauer improvised his “tears in rain” monologue and that the film itself has a very different beginning.
Author of Future Noir: Making of Blade Runner, Paul M. Sammon, details the original opening as envisioned by Ridley Scott and executive producer Hampton Fancher (and which appears to be in the new film):
The original idea was to have Deckard be sitting in the kitchen and through the windows, you see the day is getting darker and darker … a strange vehicle pulls up. A guy in farmer’s overalls comes out, goes into the house, sees Deckard sitting there, ignores him, walks into the kitchen and starts stirring a big pot of soup.
He says, ‘Do you want any soup?’ Deckard doesn’t say anything. ‘Who are you with, anyway?’ this guys says while stirring. Deckard gets up and says ‘I’m Deckard, Blade Runner.’ Boom! He kills this guy for no reason. Just shoots him. And then as this guy slumps against this wall, falls to the floor, Deckard reaches into his head and pulls his lower jaw out. And you see that it is an aluminum construct with an ID number stamped on it, and you realize it is not a person, it is a robot. Deckard takes this, puts in into his trench coat and walks out of the farm house, across the field. A little dog shows up and is barking as Deckard [flies] off.
Bright is Shadowrun without the Cyberpunk
The Netflix original movie starring Will Smith, Bright, will be coming out on December 22nd and has a new trailer. I’ve been resistant to including it in these round-ups because it seriously lacks the cyberpunk elements that makes Shadowrun so great. But at this point, I just have to admit that this is a Shadowrun movie like Underworld was a Vampire: The Masquerade movie. I wonder if anyone is getting sued this time? The official synopsis for the film is:
Set in a world where mystical creatures live side by side with humans. A human cop is forced to work with an Orc to find a weapon everyone is prepared to kill for.
Realive is Finally Coming to a Broad Audience
We first covered Realive last year, but now that the film is off of the film festival circuit, it is becoming widely available. We’ve waited a long time for this! The official synopsis for the film is:
Marc (Tom Hughes) is diagnosed with a disease and is given one year left to live. Unable to accept his own end, he decides to freeze his body. Sixty years later, in the year 2084, he becomes the first man to be revived in history. It is then he discovers that the love of his life, Naomi (Oona Chaplin), has accompanied him this entire time in a way that he’d never expected.
Realive has a theatrical release on September 29th and will be available for digitally on October 3rd.
Cyberpunk Short Films
Blade Runner 2049 – 2036: Nexus Dawn
Luke Scott is giving his father a hand in fleshing out the the three decades between Blade Runner films with “2036: Nexus Dawn.” The first of three shorts are intended to show the rise of a new corporation, the rejection of prohibition, and the birth of an angel. You can read our more in-depth analysis here.
Negotiations aren’t an easy thing, but a little compassion can go a long way. In “Dr. Easy,” written and directed by Jason Groves, Chris Harding, and Richard Kenworthy, when a sniper terrorizes a city block, officers send in a robot to calm the situation, and it approaches danger with a surprising show of humanity. The short film is based on the cyberpunk novel, The Red Men by Matthew De Abaitua and stars Tom Hollander, Geraldine James, and Alex McQueen.The official synopsis is:
Michael (Tom Hollander) is a broken man with a gun, surrounded by armed police. A robot with a medical degree is dispatched –but can it save him?
Echo/Back is a short film directed by Tristram Geary about the effects of choice in a world where time travel has become common place. The film has a fantastic cyberpunk feel with high-technology running rampant, and used to oppress, in a media saturated environment flooded with protests and an anarchistic resistance by these time travelers to this oppression of choice. The official synopsis is:
In a world where time travel spreads as a virus, a fugitive uses 1-5 second time jumps to escape a police raid. Echo/Back depicts a world where time travel is becoming commonplace. There are no time machines- instead the ability spreads through a virus. Those infected can jump several seconds through time. Amidst this upheaval, a renegade time traveller, Vance, steals an experimental weapon. Police surround him in an abandoned factory. To escape, Vance is forced to outmaneuver (and outthink) them, using time jumps.
Mr. Robot Season 3 Trailer: “There Will be No Coming Back From This”
The manic panic that is the mind of Elliot Alderson returns in a more revealing trailer for the third season. Philip Price asserts his authority, the Alderson kids find themselves alone, and the Dark Army reveals just how trustworthy they really are. All this orbits around the war for control between Elliot and Mr. Robot as Stage 2 continues to unfold.
For those who haven’t been obsessively rewatching every episode over the last year, there’s now an official recap Mr. Robot’s second season, but we’ll all have to wait for the new season to premiere on October 11.
Black Mirror is Dark as Ever
Black Mirror, the anthology series from Charlie Brooker, is returning for a fourth season and six more stories of our dark future and will be ‘coming soon.’
Cyberpunk Video Games
miniLAW: Ministry of Law
miniLAW: Ministry of Law is a new game available on Steam for early access. This means the game isn’t quite done yet, but if you’ve wanted to play a retro-style Robo-cop game, then this might be the game for you. And if you get it now, it is 30% off. The official synopsis is:
Roam the dystopian future city of New Babel, Mankind’s Last Hope, in search of crimes in progress. Use lethal weapons, non-lethal force, and diplomacy to take down bad guys.
1bitHeart is a Japanese style adventure game with some soft cyberpunk elements. If you get it now, it is 10% off. The official synopsis is:
Welcome to 1bitHeart―the latest title from Alicemare and LiEat developer △○□× (Miwashiba). In this unique and endearing adventure game, take on the role of Nanashi, a lonely, agoraphobic boy, as you solve a slew of mysteries around town while also making friends.
Localhost is a game where you have to convince sentient AIs to let you erase them. Let that sit on your conscience for awhile. The official synopsis for the game is:
It’s your first day on the job in the last days before the singularity. You’re undoubtedly a valuable addition to our team. We hope you’ll find in our era of machine governance, the repair trade is a noble pursuit.
Today’s task? It’s simple. We need to format and prepare these spare drives for refurbishment. Please use that personal assistant gynoid model for investigation purposes.
And remember, above all, no questions.
Pay no attention to the “souls” inside those drives. You will learn that synthetics will do anything to seem like a human. We made them that way.
You can get a copy of here.
William Gibson’s Archangel is Coming Out in a Collected Edition
Archangel is William Gibson’s first foray into the world of comics and has now been collected into Hardcover Graphic Novel. Gibson has also confirmed that the series has been optioned for television. The official synopsis is:
Science Fiction Superstar William Gibson’s first graphic novel! The U.S. political leaders of 2016 abandon the radioactive planet they’ve destroyed and harness the power of humanity’s last hope: The Splitter, a colossal machine designed to manufacture a bright new reality for them to infiltrate and corrupt.
You can pre-order a copy here.
Did we miss anything this week? Let us know in the comments below or on social media.
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