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(Pass)thoughts on the evolution of passwords

Battling companies, DNA video storage, telepathic logins and arrogant CEOs, all in seven days. Tech never gets boring, does it? Read what happened in the industry in our weekly roundup.


Sad Password

Passwords are unsafe, but what will replace them? The BioSense lab at the University of California, Berkeley hopes that passthoughts will. It has developed a brainwave reader that analyzes your brain waves as you remember a particular song, and uses the result to authenticate you. It claims a 99 per cent accuracy rate. But what happens when you get a song in your head that you just can’t shake, and it’s not the one you need? We’re sure that’s the basis for a future cyberattack.

Next up: a trillion cat videos stored in DNA

Microsoft has stored 202MB of data inside strands of DNA, including a video from the pop band OK Go. Working with researchers at the University of Washington and startup company Twist BioScience, it translated the binary data into nucleotide molecules and created custom DNA strands to hold the files. We won’t see DNA drives at Best Buy just yet, though. Technology experts believe that we may one day fit an exabyte (1 million terabytes) of data in a DNA cluster no bigger than a grain of sand. Yay, that’s lots more room for cat videos and sanctimonious Facebook memes.

Oracle spanked in HP lawsuit

Ouch. Oracle has just been instructed to pay US$3 billion in damages to Hewlett-Packard Enterprise (HPE) following a 2012 court decision in a legal spat between the two firms. Oracle had promised to keep developing software for Itanium, an Intel architecture developed jointly with HP. It reneged on the deal, which HPE said harmed its business. The Itanium processor disappeared in 2012 anyway, but that won’t save Oracle from this messy financial penalty, which amounts to roughly a quarter’s net profit.

Dingbat of the week

This week’s dingbat award goes unreservedly to Elon Musk. The founder of car company Tesla got into an angry Twitter spat with a journalist from Fortune after a Tesla customer was killed following an error in the car’s self-driving algorithm.

Joshua Brown died on May 7 after the software algorithm in his Tesla Model S misread the road and collided with a semi. Tesla published a blog post a month after it told the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration about the accident, citing statistics on road fatalities and taking pains to point out that it wasn’t to blame for the death. The auto driving feature is supposed to be used while keeping your attention on the road and your hands on the wheel, which Brown reportedly didn’t do.

Fortune pitched in, pointing out that Tesla and Musk sold US$2 billion of Tesla stock in the interim. Musk argued that the deal was “not material” to Tesla shares. Probably not the most sensitive of statements, eh? Then he tweeted at the journo, calling his article “BS”:

This, in turn, led one PR professional to criticize Musk, calling for more compassion from the embattled CEO, who has historically not handled public criticism well.

Musk may be technically right in his math, but his public spat over the death of a customer won’t do his image any favours. Sometimes, pure engineering savvy isn’t enough, and a little emotional intelligence goes a long way.

Illustration: Mark Glucki

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